J.L. Powers has earned a reputation as an award-winning author of young adult novels.
Now, Powers — an El Paso-area native living in the Bay Area — has teamed with Las Cruces artist George Mendoza to produce "Colors of the Wind" (Purple House Press), a picture book telling Mendoza's inspirational story of his life as a blind artist and champion runner.
"To me, it's an amazing story of someone who has persisted and found such an incredible gift in his weakness," Powers said in a recent phone interview. "He broke a world record as a blind runner and went to the Olympics twice, and later started painting these bold paintings that he cannot see. He only has a little vision in his periphery."
The book is illustrated with Mendoza's paintings.
Powers and Mendoza plan several events in El Paso and Las Cruces, starting with a book presentation and reading from 1 to 2 p.m. Saturday at the El Paso Museum of History, 510 N. Santa Fe.
Mendoza, a Las Cruces native, started going blind at age 15 from a degenerative eye disease. He often describes his condition as "kaleidoscope eyes," losing his central vision but seeing things that were not there, extraordinary colors or objects multiplied and reflected back.
Kathi Appelt, author of "The True Blue Scouts," "Sugar Man" and "The Underneath," describes the book as "an illumination of the persistent power of art." The book "reminds us all that our biggest burdens are often our greatest gifts," Appelt wrote in its blurbs.
Mendoza also is the founder of Wise Tree Foundation, a nonprofit corporation that promotes the arts. A collection of his paintings, also titled "Colors of the Wind," is a National Smithsonian Affiliates traveling exhibition.
Powers is convinced that Mendoza's story can help inspire people of all ages, not just children. "The story will also introduce people to his artwork, which is beautiful — and beautifully produced in the book as well," she said.
Powers first became acquainted with Mendoza about 12 years ago when she interviewed him for a magazine article.
Mendoza first suggested that they work together on a coffee table-style art book. The picture book biography about Mendoza emerged after the couple first tried without success to interest publishers in an art book.
The Mendoza storybook also was rejected several times, until Purple House Press, an independent publisher based in Kentucky, decided to publish it nine months ago.
Purple House Press specializes in publishing children's classics that have gone out of print.
"Colors of the Wind" is Powers' first picture book. She has also published "The Confessional," "This Thing Called the Future" and "Amina." She edited two collections of essays, "Labor Pains and Birth Stories" and "That Mad Game: Growing Up in a Warzone."
Powers is now working on other literary projects, including a fantasy science fiction novel co-written with a younger brother.