Meghan Markle talks new book ‘The Bench’ and its non-traditional depictions of masculinity and diversity

Meghan Markle discussed the deeply personal story behind her new children’s book “The Bench” as well as the important role diversity and inclusivity played in its creation.

The 39-year-old Duchess of Sussex sat down for an interview with NPR prior to the birth of her and Prince Harry’s second child, Lilibet “Lilii” Diana Mountbatten-Windsor, that debuted on Sunday’s “Weekend Edition.” In the interview, she discussed the origin of the book, appropriately rooted in the Father’s Day holiday.

Meghan explained that she was racking her brain trying to think of a first Father’s Day gift for Harry following the birth of their first child, Archie. She noted that she wanted something “sentimental and a place for him to have as a bit of a home base with our son.”

She opted to get him a bench with a plaque on the back that included a poem that would eventually become the New York Times best-seller, “The Bench.” The book is a series of vignettes featuring intimate stories between fathers and their sons that focus on spending time together on a bench.

“I often find, and especially in this past year, I think so many of us realized how much happens in the quiet,” she told interviewer Samantha Balaban in her first interview since her infamous Oprah Winfrey sit-down. “It was definitely moments like that, watching them from out of the window and watching [my husband] just, you know, rock him to sleep or carry him or, you know … those lived experiences, from my observation, are the things that I infused in this poem.”

When she saw the opportunity to tell stories about the softer side of the father-son relationship, Markle enlisted the help of illustrator Christian Robinson. She knew the Caldecott Honor recipient would help her show a lighter side of masculinity, which she decided to achieve through the use of watercolor.

“I wanted him to just try something a little bit new and work in watercolor,” Meghan explained. “And that was specifically because I just felt that when you talk about masculinity and you talk about fatherhood, it can often not come across with the same softness that I was really after for this book. And I just wanted this to feel almost ethereal and light and Christian was able to use that medium and create the most beautiful images.”

Showing a different version of masculinity was just one of the Duchess of Sussex’s goals with “The Bench.” With the help of Robinson’s illustrations, she was able to show the diversity of the myriad of fathers and sons around the world.

“Growing up, I remember so much how it felt to not see yourself represented,” Meghan, who identifies as being mixed-race, said. “Any child or any family hopefully can open this book and see themselves in it, whether that means glasses or freckled or a different body shape or a different ethnicity or religion.”

Among the book’s efforts to show the diversity was Markle’s push to depict a military father. She explained that she was inspired by a soldier she met years ago on a USO tour whose deployment kept him form his son.

“He had told me the story about how he wasn’t able to teach his son how to play catch because he was away,” Meghan explained. “And so he and his son would mail this baseball back and forth to each other from Texas to Afghanistan and write the date on it. That stuck with me.”

Markle had previously discussed her desire to show “universal themes of love, representation and inclusivity” in the book on her and Harry’s Archwell website.

Perhaps her greatest triumph with the book, she said, is the fact that her son “loves the book.”

“He has a voracious appetite for books,” she said of the 2-year-old. “When we read him a book he goes ‘again, again, again!’” she explained. “There’s a lot of special detail and love that went into this book.”

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