Where Is Your Nose?
This fall, alumnus Trace Alford ’85 joined current Avon Old Farms senior Eugene Kim in the Brown Auditorium to present to the entire school community an Avonian collaboration. But, what took only a few minutes to share on stage was just one small part of months of work between the two, resulting in a mutually beneficial product: the soon-to-be published children's book Where is Your Nose?
To learn where this story began, we followed Alford’s creative writing history all the way back to his childhood, practicing letter printing in class by writing stories, in fact. Perhaps it was that experience of working on his penmanship that sparked an interest, or perhaps it was innate. Regardless, creative writing was something Alford pursued for the rest of his life.
“I’ve had plenty of opportunities in my education to be exposed to creative writing,” began Alford, who was a three-year day-boy at Avon. “At Old Farms, my sophomore year English teacher Mr. Davis had us read a lot of literature and write a lot of papers, but also taught us about poetry and writing creatively. My junior year English teacher Mr. Fernow was a big theater guy who had us study a lot of Shakespeare. We completed close readings of texts followed by examinations of Shakespeare’s writing process. We broke down the content of the plays, their structure, and the history of Shakespearean theater. The two classes combined inspired me to pursue an English degree in college. I also took graphic design and drawing classes with Mrs. Laferriere. I likely wasn’t the most talented artist—but what I did learn from Mrs. L. was developing an artist’s eye for detail.”
Alford studied English and creative writing at Emory College before earning an MFA in creative writing from Southern Connecticut State University. It was during that time Alford began to realize that, as someone uncomfortable with the idea of writing about himself, works of fiction allowed him to safely ‘hide’ his own character into a story.
Eventually, Alford’s focus shifted a bit and he began to move from state to state. He graduated from the Culinary Institute of America, and worked as a chef at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Buckhead, Atlanta. He then moved to the Ritz-Carlton in Philadelphia, then to Boston, and then Vermont. One day, along the way, a book began to take shape.
“I saw my father playing the ‘got your nose’ joke with some little kids, and I noticed others were watching in awe—they had not seen it before!” he explained. “And that was the idea. I began writing, not knowing what direction I was heading in, and I ended up with something that was pretty long and a bit dark - like a Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale.”
Alford began sharing a draft of his story with people in his community - parents, children, and even a local children’s author. Everyone seemed to like the tale of a young boy, Henry, traveling to the beach with his family for a day. Henry sees a couple playing the ‘got your nose’ game with their daughter, and decides he too, wants to collect some noses. After taking everyone’s nose on the beach and using them to adorn his sandcastle, Henry’s parents remind him that all the noses must be returned. Henry does so, but is left with one nose, which is not his own.
“People liked the story, but they said ‘you need to cut it down,’ and the children’s author suggested it would make a better picture book,” Alford explained. “So, then it was a process of editing, and eventually illustrating the book.”
When discussing the story with a small children’s book publisher, Alford was presented with the idea of returning to his alma mater in search of an illustrator, and the idea immediately took.
“I’ve always given back to Avon when I can, and feel strongly that it’s important to give students real-world exposure,” he shared. “When it was suggested I give the illustration duties to a young artist, I was excited to share this experience with a fellow Avonian.”
Alford approached Avon’s Director of Visual Arts Cristina Pinton and pitched her the concept. When Alford asked for a student who might be interested, Pinton suggested three.
“I met with the students, Eugene being one of them. We went through a portfolio review process, essentially treating this as a job interview. It turns out that Eugene had never really drawn people—which I didn’t know at the time—but looking back, his art often featured animals. His drawings were very fine and detailed. He is a talented artist. His first sketch was of Henry, and it was really good. So, I decided to ask Eugene if he was interested.”
That was last spring.
“I felt strongly that the illustrations needed to be people, because that’s what I had envisioned my story to be,” explained Alford. “I wanted to let Eugene be creative with the story—I basically gave him a blank slate, but he needed to work on people which would turn out to be a challenge.”
Because Kim wasn’t familiar with expressing mannerisms or giving people their unique personality in illustrations, he told Alford that he would have to spend the summer researching and practicing. Upon returning to school in the fall, Kim dedicated his afternoons through Avon’s Advanced Independent Project (AIP) program to illustrating the book.
“This is the first book that I will publish, and I am so glad that it has been such a special project,” said Alford. “Avon has grown tremendously since I graduated, now offering so many opportunities to today’s students. And I was honored to be able to help in such a unique way. This project has been beneficial for both of us. For example, now the lead character Henry is much happier than he would have been without Eugene’s illustrations. Eugene has dedicated a lot of time to the project and has created fantastic illustrations. I hope that I’ve inspired Eugene, because he’s certainly inspired and motivated me.”
After the all-school presentation, students and faculty alike were congratulating Eugene Kim and Trace Alford on their impressive collaboration—a collaboration Avon as an institution would love to see happen more. Avon encourages Avonian collaboration across the generations through the Alumni Mentorship Program. As a mentor, you can refine your leadership skills, give back to the school, grow your professional network, and as Alford did, gain new insights from a younger generation. Learn more at https://www.avonoldfarms.com/alumni/mentor-program.