About the artist and writer Debra Hand

Debra Hand is a renowned award-winning artist and writer. Her work is in the permanent collections of several prestigious institutions including the Smithsonian Institute, and the DuSable Museum.   Among the history makers who own her works are former President Barack Obama; former astronaut, Mae Jemison; Hillary Clinton; Oprah; Yo-Yo Ma; Cicely Tyson; Harry Belafonte; Smokey Robinson; Magic Johnson; author Stedman Graham; Baby Face Edmonds; LL Cool J;  and Chicago luminaries such as Cheryl Burton, Barbara Bates, and the legendary sculptor, Richard Hunt.  The late Dr. Winnie Mandela and Dr. Maya Angelou also owned her work. Debra Hand has a Master’s of Science and Engineering Degree from Northwestern University's McCormick School of Engineering. She has worked and taught extensively in the area of data transmissions infrastructure and technology.  She is a self-taught artist and writer who began her journey in the arts with the very basics: a writing pad, watercolor set, and a paint brush. Through years of determined self-instruction, she worked her way into a prestigious career filled with accomplishments. She was being chosen by the City of Chicago to create a life-size bronze statue to honor the life and legacy of Paul Laurence Dunbar.

Even with such accomplishments, Hand has always remained passionate about writing.  She began writing as a teen and has never stopped.  In parallel to her rise in the art world, she continued to write devotedly. She has written, directed, narrated, and edited two one-hour documentaries for the H30-Art of Life Show on CAN-TV. In a one hour 2005 documentary titled “Katrina 101" she documented and experiences and struggles of three Hurricane Katrina survivors who had been left behind in New Orleans during the storm. In a one hour 2004 documentary she featured the collection and book launch of “African Art: the Diaspora and Beyond” by Daniel T. Parker) and included the oral histories of the artists in the Dan Parker Collection. 

Debra Hand has written several YA and children’s books, has self-published 2 of them, and is currently working on 3 novels and 4 screenplays that are in various stages of editing. She has also written numerous poems and is a contributing writer for Black Art in America, one of the nation’s leading portals of information and education for African American art history.  In all of her writing, she maintains one goal: to encourage everyone to discover and explore the gifts within themselves so the world can benefit from their unique contributions.

Coincidentally, it was Dunbar’s poetry that gave Hand her first glimpse of an African American writer. As a child, Dunbar's poetry had been read to her by her mother.  It was only later, during the research phase of Hand's Dunbar statue project, that she learned Dunbar had actually been the very first African American in history to reach international acclaim as an author and poet, and to make his sole living as a writer.

Historical figures seem to show up often on Hand’s artistic journey. She was personally mentored by the late Dr. Margaret Burroughs, principal founder of the historic DuSable Museum which, likewise, was the first museum in the nation that was totally devoted to African American history and culture.

Burroughs, a famous artist and writer who devoted her life and art to serving humanity, encouraged Hand to keep this principle at the forefront of her work. To this day, it is a legacy that Hand proudly follows. Whether she is writing or creating art, she uses storytelling in all its forms to encourage younger generations to find value in themselves, and to encourage understanding between diverse groups in hopes of engendering a more inclusive society for everyone.

Debra Hand has won many awards for her efforts in this area including “Best of Show” at the Museum of Science and Industry’s Black Creativity Exhibit.  She was also named by the Chicago Defender to their top 50 Women of Excellence in 2016.  In 2017, she was presented an Egretha Cultural Icon Award.    Hand has been featured by Harry Porterfield in his news segment "Someone You Should Know," and her work is featured in the Emmy winning documentary "Curators of Culture" produced by Rita Coburn.  

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