Kenesha Sneed is an award-winning multi-disciplinary artist, Creative Director and founder of Tactile Matter, an LA-based line of bespoke ceramics, art and textiles. In Kenesha’s first book, Many Shapes Of Clay, she focuses on teaching children and families how to make new things out of what’s left behind. While shaped as a beautiful book with natural tones, after over a year of loss, this book proves that families and the conversations and paths they chart forward, need to address this movement alongside tremendous loss. We got to chat with Kenesha about her process and the importance of this book right now.
LY: What does it mean to you to have created every aspect of this book, including the writing, messages, and illustrations?
On the one hand, it’s meant creative freedom, allowing me to pour myself into every part, translating my own personal experience of navigating grief. On the other hand, it’s meant a lot of unpacking emotions that I didn’t anticipate might surface during this process. One illustration in particular was both therapeutic and emotional for me: Eisha and her dad picking lemons together. It brought out some feelings at a time when I wasn’t quite ready to dive into them. This book has been a space for me to break through some of my own emotional walls. I envision it as a book for both children and adults—anyone who’s navigating their own loss and finding new ways to heal.
LY: Considering this year-and-a-half-long pandemic, and children from all over experiencing varying forms of loss, the book also beautifully extends this experience of immense loss to the adults in their lives. Can you speak to the necessary normalization of this in children’s literature?
Grief is so messy and unpredictable, and there’s no right way to move through it all. When I first put pen to paper, I couldn’t have predicted that the past year would have been filled with so much loss. I hope this book will inspire children who are experiencing any hard-to-process feelings. A part of Eisha’s journey is learning, from both adults and the world around her, that it’s okay to feel sad, while also holding space for her community. I wanted to acknowledge Eisha’s mother’s grief as well, showing that both kids and adults feel sad sometimes, and we just have to find ways of moving forward through it together.
LY: On the first page of the book, you make a point to teach the reader how to pronounce Eisha’s name correctly, why was that important for you?
It’s important for the reader to know how to pronounce Eisha’s name; and it also shows the greater importance of taking time to learn how to pronounce someone’s name without simply assuming. Growing up, my best friend and I both had names that end with an “ee-sha,” so Eisha’s name is also a nod of appreciation to the beauty of these unique names, while hopefully sparking encouraging conversations between children and parents.
LY: There are so many life lessons embedded in the process of making pottery. How did that play into the creation of the storyline and its messaging?
There are a few important messages in this story. One of them is using Eisha’s shape as a metaphor for learning how to pick up broken pieces. Even though there’s nothing easy about moving forward, there is something special about trying. I’ll never forget a card that my friend sent me after my dad passed; it was the simplest card with an illustrated ceramic bowl with cracks all over it. The cracks were filled with this beautiful gold embossing. First, I love that she knew I knew what it meant—which for anyone who might not, it’s a Japanese technique called Kintsugi, an art form of carefully putting broken ceramic pieces back together using gold, silver, or platinum to bond the materials. It’s not only beautiful but also carries a message of embracing imperfection while evolving those pieces into something even stronger than before. I’m a low-key cards-from-friends hoarder and I still visit that one on days when I’m feeling down.
LY: In the book, Eisha’s mom is teaching her to use art as a form of healing. Is that also true of your writing experience? And how is the book similar or different from your own childhood?
I’ve definitely taken a lot of inspiration from my own relationship with my mother—seeing how resilient she has been my whole life, leading up to my dad’s sudden passing, and seeing her strength in her own grieving journey. It is so inspiring. The ways in which we choose to reshape our traumas are very personal and deeply meaningful. Eisha‘s mother has her own grief, which she carries and translates through her ceramic sculptures, taking from her own experience to show her child, it’s okay to find her own unique way of healing through it all.
Congratulations, Kenesha! You can purchase Many Shapes Of Clay right here.