Elizabeth Boyne
Recent MFA graduate of the University Of Iowa Center for the Book

The Language of Shadows

"I was first attracted to Opal Whiteley’s story after learning about her diary. Opal kept a diary as a child and when she was 12, her sister ripped it to pieces. When she was 20, Opal pieced the diary back together to have it serialized in the Atlantic Monthly. At first I was intrigued by how meticulous and reverent this act of reconstructing the diary must have been, putting every page back together piece by piece. But as I read more about Opal and came to know more about her story, it seemed that she was dealing with an internal fragmentation also. As an adult she was diagnosed with schizophrenia, and in her diary she often wrote about the voices of the woods calling to her."

"In The Language of Shadows I’ve used quotes from Opal’s diary to reconstruct a narrative about Opal’s life and her thoughts about the world that she imagined. Through narration and through a series of different voices I’ve tried to put myself into Opal’s mind and conceive of the way she felt about nature and how she might have thought about her surroundings as an adult, as a counterbalance to the voice of the child that is found in the diary. I wanted the drawings in the book to start as fragments that slowly come together into larger images. I also wanted these illustrations to mirror and echo each other through the pages, and to show how Opal felt marginalized in her family and alone amid her beloved animal friends. Opal’s diary is, for the most part, the cheerful and imaginative recollections of a child. I wanted The Language of Shadows to feel a little like the shadow-side of her diary."

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