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Darneisha (Dar) Airhart, Winner of 2023 TAZ Award for Children

Dar Airhart is the 2023 winner of the TAZ Book Award for 2023 In the Children’s category. Airhart’s motivation for writing Louder and Funnier was to share the history of Fort Smith with children. “I think our children learning historical information is most important—so they can see what's been done and realize their own dreams! I enjoyed reading as a child and I've worked in youth programming for years. They are our future.”

Louder and Funnier is the story of Alphonso Trent, a piano player and band leader from Fort Smith, Arkansas. “Louder and Funnier” was a piece his band played. He and his band were good enough to play at the Savoy in New York.

This is Airhart’s first published children's book. However, she has written other things. “I released a poetry chapbook, “WILD and Whirling Words,” in 2014 and in 2021 a short story "Here Come the Cousins" in “Writing Our Lives, a Southern Storytellers Anthology"

Airhart makes no special preparations to write. She says, “I just listen to the Holy Spirit and write things down as they flow!”

Airhart gathered information about Alfonso Trent in several ways.

“I had the opportunity to speak to an elder who attended Lincoln High School in Fort Smith, who remembered the family, and also a Trent family member. I also searched online at the Fort Smith Historical Society Journal.

Why did she choose Trent as a subject?

“I wrote about ALPHONSO TRENT because I was unaware of him growing up in Fort Smith and I was an older adult before I even knew anything about him and all his musical and racial barriers that he had been successful in breaking. I was waiting for someone else to write the story however I kept getting Lil 'God Taps' that this story needed to be heard and I should write it.

The story was edited by Airhart and Joyce Faulkner, the publisher located in Fort Smith.

“From the beginning I had hoped to keep this project a Fort Smith creation—the characters, myself the writer, publisher—so I set out to find a Fort Smith artist and also hoped to find an African American artist too.”

“Nadia Lougin is a college student, but I had worked with her when she was in high school at a few events and had purchased and received several of her pieces which are on my wall at home.

“I reached out to her mom and she connected us. After a meeting and telling Nadia Alphonso's history, she was excited. I had confidence in her skills that she would see my vision and artistic ideas and be able to bring them to life. And she did. This is her first time doing book illustrations.

Airhart doesn’t have a writing room. “I don’t write in a special place. However I do seem to end up sitting on the floor quite a bit instead of a desk or chair.”

Airhart says she never uses outlines. Also, she writes at night.

“Late night seems to be an inspirational time.”

Airhart is busy when she is not writing. “I'm a teaching minister, site pastor, youth mentor/coach.

“I really enjoy HGTV, Food Network, Christmas Romance movies and Art exhibits.

I’m a singer who enjoys performing Jazz such as Billie Holliday and Nina Simone songs and once was part of an Arkansas reggae band. I’m also a foodie who sold vanilla butter cookies that I created a recipe for during the pandemic.”

What about winning at TAZ?

“My thoughts on winning TAZ? Very grateful, and honored to win especially with my first children's book and in a whole different region of the U.S. It makes me smile when

I think about it.

“I’m not working on any writing right now—hadn't been feeling too creative in that sense. The focus has been on promoting Louder & Funnier.

“I do have two children’s stories already written, so just seeing where they will lead me.”

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