Shalanda Sims: From stage to page
It begins with a bad dream.
When 10-year-old Zora Johnson wakes up from a nightmare with a beating heart and a racing mind, she's certain nothing — not a bubble bath or a cup of hot cocoa — can drag her back to sleep.
But Mrs. Johnson has a secret weapon: a hooded cloak embroidered with pictures and patterns that tell a story Zora can't quite decipher, yet.
Swathed in safety, the young girl drifts off, only to awaken somewhere in precolonial Africa.
But is Zora truly a stranger in a strange land?
For "Night Rhythms" author and Troutdale resident Shalanda Sims, this tale of lineage and family connection is also a link to her daughter, Syairah Sims, to whom the book is dedicated.
Sims started the book when her daughter was tearing through the "Magic Tree House" series in elementary school. As of its publication this year, Sy is a sophomore in high school.
"There weren't too many books that she was reading that had an African-American female hero," explained the Jefferson High alumna. "I thought it would be so nice for her to able to pick up a book where she could see herself."
The writer of the 50-page publication says "Night Rhythms" explores the slave trade between Africa and America in a gentle manner appropriate for young children.
The names of Zora, along with little brother Thurston, slyly wink at Zora Neal Hurston, the famed novelist who wrote "Their Eyes Were Watching God" in 1937.
Sims, a respected teaching artist with Portland Center Stage, is well-known for her play "Who I Am Celebrating Me." She says one of the main challenges writing for print was using less dialogue than she would for the stage.
As for the play, "Who I Am" is gearing up for its 12th-annual performance on Feb. 11 and Feb. 12 at the World Trade Center in downtown Portland.
Often described as a stage celebration of African-American history and culture, the play will serve as a centerpiece of the upcoming Black History Festival NW, which was organized by Sims' production company, World Stage Theatre. Sims founded the company and serves as artistic director.
The festival runs through the month of February — it is Black History Month, after all — and also includes a keynote address by ESPN journalist Jemele Hill on Feb. 24.
Like "Night Rhythms," the play is a "historical journey" that takes viewers from colonial Africa to modern day America while covering an array of African-American leaders and artistic movements.
"You will experience dance, singing, monologues — all types of expressions," described Sims. "We are a multi-generational cast. We pride ourselves on that."
The performance runs about two hours with an intermission. Fan favorites, including a tribute to Michael Jackson, Harlem ragtime, minstrel songs and hip hop, are returning again this year.
"We add and take away different characters (every year), because there's so many characters," she noted.
World Stage Theatre received a $25,000 placemaking grant for the festival from Metro regional government in July. For tickets and more information, visit www.wiacm.info.
Faithful Outlook readers will surely remember the story of Sims' son, Isaiah, who was honored as a member of the Pamplin Media Group "Amazing Kids" contest in 2016, for his work as an actor, singer, composer and as student body president at Reynolds High.
Sims says her book wouldn't have been possible without the support of her entire family — including her husband, Shawnte, and her 24-year-old son, Elijah.
At a coffee shop in Fairview, Shalanda Sims emphasizes that "Night Rhythms" is the first in the Hooded Quilt Series. She's already at work on a sequel, though the topic is still under wraps.
"Everything was intentional (in the book), and it's really to show how we're all connected," Sims noted. "We have our different cultures, and ideals of what makes us different, but we're all connected in some way."
What: Author Shalanda Sims will read from her new book at Gregory Heights Library, 7921 N.E. Sandy Blvd., Portland, on Dec. 23 and at Clackamas Town Center Barnes & Noble, 12000 S.E. 82nd Ave., Portland, on Feb. 10. Here's what you need to know before you go:
Title: Night Rhythms
Publisher: Inkwater Press
Available: At Powell's Books, Barnes & Noble and on Amazon.com