McCrabb: Local illustrator working on book with Amanda Gorman, poet who inspired at inauguration

Loren Long put down his paint brush and paused his creativity long enough to watch the inauguration of Joe Biden as the 46th president of the United States.

He remembers listening as Lady Gaga sang the national anthem.

“She killed it,” he said.

Then Jennifer Lopez performed her renditions of “This Land Is Your Land” and “America the Beautiful.”

“Incredible,” he said.

After the inaugural address, National Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman, at 22 the youngest, recited her poem, “The Hill We Climb.”

Long stood up and was moved to tears listening as Gorman delivered her words.

“It was so beautiful,” he said. “I was blown away. No matter where you are on this politics crap, she gave the world what it needed to hear.”

Now the two will be forever linked.

Long, who lived in Middletown and West Chester for years before moving his art studio to the Cincinnati area, is illustrating Gorman’s first children’s book, “Change Sings,” set to be published Sept. 21.

Long and Gorman were connected because they share the same agent.

“I was told she was destined to make some waves,” said Long, 56. “They said she has talked about being president one day.”

Long also is the author and illustrator of the New York Times bestselling picture books “Otis and the Tornado,” “Otis and the Puppy,” “An Otis Christmas,” “Otis and the Scarecrow” and “Otis and the Kittens” and illustrator of President Barack Obama’s picture book “Of Thee I Sing.”

His most recent work, “Someone Builds the Dream,” by Lisa Wheeler is set to be released March 23.

The week before the presidential inauguration, Long was contacted by his editors about his progress on Gorman’s book. He had three or four more illustrations to complete. He was told to stop. He had to design the cover first.

He finished the cover, sent it to his art director and editor, who forwarded it to Gorman.

“She was excited about it,” Long said. “It was really fun, a magical experience for me.”

As an illustrator, Long said his job is to take the text, or manuscript, and become the film director of the movie. Tell his story without getting in the way of the words.

“Set the tone, the mood,” he said.

Illustrating a book of poems is a “harder challenge,” said Long, who earned his art degree from the University of Kentucky.

His previous works included a conventional character, Otis. The theme of poems books is much more complex.

“I have to interpret the meaning of Amanda’s words,” said Long, who previously worked for Gibson Greeting cards. “Say what they mean to me. It’s a team, a real collaborative.”

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