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Interview with Anne Sawyer-Aitch, author of Nalah and the Pink Tiger

By T Gleichner
Posted May 23, 2013 in Entertainment
Anne Sawyer-Aitch (pronounced like the letter “H”) is a puppeteer and stilt-walker. Nalah and the Pink Tiger is her first children’s book. She has worked for years with Minneapolis-based groups In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre and the all-women’s stilting troupe Chicks on Sticks. Anne likes to create all kinds of puppets: parade floats, giant stilt puppets, and intricate color shadow shows. Currently, she is performing her Nalah and the Pink Tiger puppet show in English and Spanish around MN. She is a recipient of awards from the Jim Henson Foundation, the Puppeteers of America, the MN State Arts Board, and the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council. She lives in Minneapolis with her computer genius husband and a pack of imaginary dogs.
Why was writing your book so important to you?
I've always wanted to write picture books for children. I've kept a file for years in my computer. But this one appeared fully formed, and I just really wanted to see it come to life. I can identify with my niece Nalah; her naughtiness, her rapid-fire patter, and her vivid imagination. Actually, I was probably a little more goody-two-shoes than she is when I was a kid. That's why I enjoy her.
What was the writing/creative process like?
The writing was the easy part. I woke up in the middle of the night with the story fully formed in my head. I scribbled a rough storyboard with narration, and followed that as I created the illustrations. It was more time-consuming and difficult to find the right style for the drawings. But when I did, it was very enjoyable.
How did you come up with the title?
It's about Nalah and her imaginary pink tiger, so…it seemed kinda natural.
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
When I was a little kid. My friend Kari and I had a magazine called the Daily Buggle. We drew comics and wrote stories about made-up characters called Goolies.
What books do you believe influenced you in your life?
I love fiction most of all. I'm a fan of the Brontes (all three sisters), Elizabeth Gaskell, Charles Dickens, Anthony Trollope. But I can also get into stuff like Lord of the Rings and the His Dark Materials series. Our parents read to us every night when we were kids. But if I had to name one writer, it would be Minnesota-born Maud Hart Lovelace, author of the Betsy-Tacy series. The girl protagonist in that series also aspired to be a writer. The picture books by the D’Aulaires and Wanda Gag made want to create visual art.
How much influence did you have in the cover of your book? Did you initially have a different idea of how it would look?
I created the art for it - Kelly, the designer from Mighty Media formatted it and made it look great. I was very happy with it.
Can you describe a typical day for you?
I might load up my car with my Nalah and the Pink Tiger puppet show and go perform at a school or library. Or teach puppet or mask-making in the schools (I work as MN State Arts Board Roster Artist.) If I'm not doing one of those two things, it could be a day of papier-mâché, working on new writing projects, or a grant.
What do you like to do when you aren’t writing?
I'm a professional puppeteer and stilt-walker. I make a lot of messes, and have a closet full of seven-foot pants.
What do your family and friends think of your writing?
I haven't asked them. But they are very supportive of everything I do.
What do you think is more important – a good plot, or good characters? Why did you choose the one you did?
I think good characters will often drive a plot. I started with my niece Nalah as the character. Her penchant for saying and doing unexpected things drove the storyline.

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