CSK Legends: Mildred D. Taylor

Photo Credit: The Hornbook

Family history has always fascinated me. Like the elders of many African American families, mine migrated from backwater Southern towns to a more thriving one in the 1930’s.  Their personal histories were, however, closed doors. Fortunately, encountering Mildred D. Taylor’s Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry and Let the Circle Be Unbroken in elementary school gave me keys to understanding. Once this access was granted, I could feel and imagine the worlds of my grandparents and their predecessors– comforts and terrors alike.

Like the West African griots of long ago who passed down family histories, Taylor has devoted most of her literary career to telling one story: that of the Logans, a proud black family of the Southern United States. Her stories are to children’s literature what Alex Haley’s Roots is to adult historical fiction. Both make history dance and command our attention, awakening ancestral memory in a way that cold facts and timelines cannot.

Special thanks to Janell Walden Agyeman of Marie Brown Associates and Regina Hayes of Penguin Random House for helping to arrange this exchange which happened by email in Spring 2019. It has been lightly edited for posting on this blog.


JW: First, thank you for agreeing to this interview. After Song of the Trees was published in 1975, did you have any idea that you would continue to share parts of Cassie’s family story for the next forty years? Also, you’re putting the finishing touches on the final installment which you’ve titled All the Days Past, All the Days to Come. How does it feel drawing the Logan family saga to a close?

MDT:  I had planned from the very beginning to tell Cassie’s family story, although I didn’t have any idea how long it would take.  I have felt such an obligation to finish the story; it has pressed on me.  At one point I even gave back the contract advance for the final book, feeling the pressure was too much.  But I had made a commitment, and I wanted to finish the Logan story. It saddens me that this book is the end, but there is also a sense of relief. I am done!

Photo courtesy of Mildred D. Taylor

JW: Along with the inspiration that you got from your family, specifically your father, what published writers influenced your storytelling?

MDT: It may surprise you to learn that the writer who influenced me the most was Harper Lee.  I loved Scout of To Kill A Mockingbird.  My Cassie Logan had a different story to tell, from a Black point of view.

JW: Your work foregrounds the dignity and self-respect of the Logan family in the face of the indignities of the Jim Crow era. In every instance, your stories move beyond struggle and woe to emphasize courage, the power of family unity. I also love how nature plays an important role in all of the Logan stories that I’ve read. Do you intentionally place courage and reverence for nature at the heart of your work?

MDT:  Yes, both courage and reverence for nature. I was born in Mississippi but left when I was three months old, and although I grew up in Toledo, my family went yearly–sometimes even twice a year— back home to Mississippi, to the land.  It was beautiful, with forests and ponds and we would walk it drinking in the beauty and appreciating the calm and peace of the trees and the land our family had struggled to obtain and hold onto. This was land my great-grandparents had bought after they came from slavery. When I saw the land where I now live in Colorado, it spoke to me in the same way.

JW: After winning your first literary awards, namely the CSK, what changes happened in your career? And did this kind of recognition have any effect-on how you approached your writing?

MDT:  Well, actually, my first literary award was winning the contest sponsored by The Council on Interracial Books for Children, and that led to the publication of Song of the Trees.  My second literary award was the Newbery Medal, for Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry.  So in a sense, big changes had already occurred.  But of course it was wonderful to win the Coretta Scott King award for four of my books. I have never liked making speeches.  Preparing speeches and delivering them drained and distracted me from my work; therefore, I have seldom attended award ceremonies. When The Road to Memphis won the award, I was actually on the dais with Mrs. Rosa Parks and was able to talk with her. My greatest regret concerning the award is when I was unable to attend the ceremony to accept the Coretta Scott King award for The Land, and I missed the chance to receive the award from Mrs. King herself.

Image Credit: Kadir Nelson/Puffin Books

JW: Before becoming an established writer, I read that you taught on both a Navajo reservation in Arizona and in Ethiopia. These cultures have strong poetry and verbal storytelling traditions. How, if at all, did these experiences influence your own storytelling?

MDT:   I spent three weeks on the Navajo reservation in preparation for teaching with the Peace Corps in Ethiopia.  There were only white teachers on the reservation and the children crowded around me since my skin was brown like theirs.  One little boy in particular was so sweet to me; he put his arm next to mine and said, “Look, Miss, we’re alike!” I had similar experiences in Ethiopia, where the people I met had never seen an African American.

Although both Navajo and Ethiopian cultures have a storytelling tradition, my own storytelling grew entirely out of the Southern tradition [of the U.S].  We were a family of storytellers. Whenever the family was together, we loved hearing and telling the stories of past events.

JW:  From your perspective as a literary veteran and culture keeper, what value do you think that awards like the CSK have? Are they still as important as they once were? And how would you compare what’s being published today for children of color to that of past decades?

MDT:  I am not in a position to evaluate this.  When I am writing, I don’t read other writers’ work, and I’m usually quite unaware of the awards and their impact.  One trend I deplore is the pressure to whitewash the past. The past was not pretty – I lived it and I remember and I am determined to portray it as it was.

Mildred D. Taylor has won the Coretta Scott King Author Award for The Land (2002), The Road to Memphis (1991), The Friendship (1988) and Let the Circle Be Unbroken (1982). She is also a two-time recipient of the Coretta Scott King Author Honor for Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry (1977) and Song of the Trees (1976).

Jené Watson is Chair of the CSK Technology Committee as well as a mother, writer, educator and librarian who lives and works in suburban Atlanta. She is the author of The Spirit That Dreams: Conversations with Women Artists of Color.

A Night of Enchantment

Alan R. Bailey

I had been excited about the Coretta Scott King Book Awards 50th Anniversary Gala since the day it was announced, but my stomach was filled with so many butterflies on Friday, June 21st, I thought they would lift me off the ground and out of Washington, DC. Waiting for the doors of the celebration to officially open at 6:30 p.m. was truly getting the best of me. These were not butterflies associated with anxiety, fear, doubt, or uncertainty, however, but butterflies of joy and anticipation. It reminded me of how I felt around Christmas Eve as a young child.

As I walked towards the carriage house entrance, I noticed a luxurious black car parked near the entrance. When I heard the car door close and people began to chatter, I looked over my shoulder out of curiosity and saw Dr. Carla Hayden, looking radiant in a black and fuchsia dress, standing next to the car. She smiled warmly as our eyes met, and I must admit I blushed. A minute later, while I was still in awe from seeing Dr. Hayden, Ashley Bryan was escorted by me and into the building. At that very moment, I knew June 21, 2019, would be an enchanting night.

When I entered the great hall, I was temporarily immobilized by the majestic staircases, floors, arches, lighting, dome, and more. Everything in sight, including the beautiful people surrounding me, was magnificent. Although I have been a librarian for more than 35 years and visited DC more times than I can count, I am a bit embarrassed to say I had not visited the Library of Congress. Of course, I expected it to be majestic, but what I saw and felt surpassed everything I had imagined – I felt as if I had taken a step back in time.  

Photo credit: Susan Polos

Seven o’clock was rapidly approaching, so everyone was ushered quickly to Coolidge Auditorium, where the gala took place. As I entered the auditorium, I immediately knew I was amongst my true tribe. Authors, illustrators, librarians, and many others sharing a common thread – an admiration for books for and about African American children, especially those with seals representing the Coretta Scott King Book Award on their covers. Saying the auditorium was filled with the crème de la crème is an understatement. As I walked down the aisle, James and Lesa Cline Ransome were in front of me, Christopher Myers was standing on my left, and George Ford was engaged in a lively conversation on my right. Adrenalin pumped vigorously as I finally took my seat. I glanced around before opening my program and saw amazing individuals like Kadir Nelson, Kekla Magoon, Jerry Pinkney, R. Gregory Christie, Sharon Flake, and Jason Reynolds. And, remember, this was before the event officially began.

As the lights dimmed and the eloquent voice of Andrea Davis Pinkney came over the microphone, the night of nights began, and, oh, what a night it was. The program included a heartfelt welcome from Dr. Carla Hayden, the spectacular voice of Jewell Booker, the presentation of the astonishing commemorative painting of Mrs. Coretta Scott King by Kadir Nelson, poetry written especially for this 50th Celebration delivered by Kwame Alexander and accompanied by guitarist Randy Preston, and inspirational remarks by Jacqueline Woodson, National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature. What a powerful lineup. And to close the program, “Dream for Tomorrow,” a piece choreographed by Dobbin Pinkney, and performed by Dobbin and a troupe of gifted dancers. And yes, Dobbin is a member of the amazing Pinkney family – a family that will never stop astonishing us with their talents!

Photo credit: Susan Polos

The gala concluded with a reception filled with food, champagne, and lively conversation. Unity and love radiated throughout the great hall. Love for both children’s literature and for humanity – how could you not feel its presence? I proudly rode that wave of unity and love as I greeted and chatted with Rita Williams Garcia, Angie Thomas, Sharon Draper, Ekua Holmes, and the legendary Eloise Greenfield. In addition to some of the world’s greatest children’s authors and illustrators, I had the pleasure of seeing Fran Ware (Chair of the CSK Book Awards Committee when I joined the committee in 2005), Dr. Carole McCollough (Chair of my first CSK jury), and Satia Orange (former Director of OLOS). My heart swelled with joy as I conversed with these three amazing women who influenced me over the past 15 years more than they can ever imagine.

When the gala ended, I exchanged warm goodbyes, descended one of the majestic stairwells, called for a car, and returned to my hotel room with intentions to shower and go directly to bed. Showering was easy but going to bed was more difficult than I imagined. Although I was exhausted, memories of the spectacular evening flooded my mind in waves too strong to allow me to retire for the evening. For me, the Coretta Scott King Book Awards 50th Anniversary Gala was a moving, almost spiritual, event of a lifetime. Undoubtedly, a night of enchantment.

Alan R. Bailey is the 2019-2021 Chair of the Coretta Scott King Book Awards Committee, He is a Professor at East Carolina University, Greenville, NC.

Time to Pass the Gavel: Coretta Scott King Book Awards Chair Dr. McLinn’s Message to the CSK Community at ALA Annual

Dr. Claudette McLinn

It is with a great sense of gratitude and satisfaction that I write my final message as Chair of Coretta Scott King Book Awards Committee/Community during the 50thAnniversary of the CSK Book Awards founding. 

As of June 26, 2019, the end of the Annual Conference, my esteemed colleague Alan Bailey will assume the role of Chair, and I cannot think of anyone more qualified and prepared to serve as your 2019-2021 Chair. Indeed, all the CSK Executive Board members with whom I’ve had the pleasure to serve, as well as the incoming members, are eminently qualified to help lead the committee into the future. My thanks and best wishes also go out to those CSK Standing Committee members and CSK 50thAnniversary Planning Committee members whose terms will be completed at the end of this month and who have served with diligence, enthusiasm, and commitment. 

As I transition to the role of Immediate Past-Chair, I am truly humbled and honored to join such an outstanding group of individuals who have served CSK in this role. As I look back over the past two years, I am immensely proud of all that our committee has accomplished during that time, especially during the CSK 50thAnniversary celebration. 

For now, suffice it is to say that our CSK committee members, ODLOS staff, ALA supporters and leaders have done an outstanding job of moving the committee forward despite numerous challenges. I can’t wait to see what the future holds!

Finally, I would simply like to say “Thank you!” to every CSK Committee member for allowing me the privilege of serving as your Chair over this past two years. It is an experience I will never forget and which I will treasure for the rest of my life. You, the members, are the reason our committee exists and the reason why we as leaders do what we do. I hope you will keep fighting the good fight and never forget that your skills are crucial to the safety, health, and well-being of countless librarians, library workers, authors and illustrators, parents, and students across this country. That is something we can ALL be proud of! 

Thank you, and onward and upward! 

Dr. Claudette S. McLinn   Chair, Coretta Scott King Book Awards Committee, 2017 – 2019 Chair, Coretta Scott King Book Awards 50thAnniversary Planning Committee, 2016 – 2019 #CSK50

This is the message delivered by Dr. Claudette McLinn, outgoing Chair of the Coretta Scott King Book Awards Committee, at the 2019 ALA Annual’s CSK Membership Meeting on June 26.

Meet the 2019 Coretta Scott King Book Awards Donation Grant Recipients

Students in PS 627 and NIA Community Services Network’s after-school program explore their new books. Photo credit: Elaysel German

The Coretta Scott King Book Awards engage communities in multiple opportunities to increase the love of literacy in our youth, including the Coretta Scott King Book Awards Donation Grant. Every year, the Ethnic and Multicultural Information Exchange Round Table (EMIERT) of the American Library Association receives approximately 60-100 books for the Coretta Scott King Book Awards jury to review, including a full set of that year’s Coretta Scott King Award winning and honor book titles. The Coretta Scott King Book Awards Donation Grant brings these books into the lives of children and their communities. When an organization is selected as a grant winner, it is sent the books EMIERT collected and these books are used to support innovative projects that foster community connections, build reading opportunities, and increase children’s access to quality materials.

The 2019 recipients of the Coretta Scott King Book Awards Donation Grants have been announced! Please read below to learn more about the ways this year’s grant recipients are connecting communities through innovative literacy- and youth-centered projects.  

Kane County Juvenile Justice Center: Saint Charles, IL
The Kane County Juvenile Justice Center (JJC) has a library run by volunteers who believe reading adds “immeasurable value to young lives.” Library materials are open and available to all people living in the Center for checkout, and the library works to support patrons as they develop a passion for reading. The books received from the grant will be featured in a special collection area celebrating the Coretta Scott King Book Awards.

Main Street Academy: Winston-Salem, North Carolina
Main Street Academy (MSA) is an alternative school serving young people in grades 6-12, with a newly renovated media center that is open daily for the community. The books acquired from the grant will support the media center’s print collection, and staff will continue to nurture a culture of reading and learning through face-out displays, book talks, book clubs, and by promoting community-wide enrichment programs that connect learners inside and outside the school’s walls.

NIA Community Services Network: Brooklyn, NY
NIA Community Services Network, Inc. is a nonprofit organization dedicated to “building strong children, strong families, and strong communities.” Through a collaboration with PS 627 Brighter Choice Community School, the books acquired from the grant will be used to support an after-school program that supports students as they develop a love of reading through culturally relevant literature activities. The books will also be available to students throughout the school day.To learn more about the Coretta Scott King Book Awards Donation Grant and how to apply for a grant in 2020, visit http://www.ala.org/rt/emiert/cskbookawards/bookgrant. To learn more about the 50th anniversary of the Coretta Scott King Book Awards, visit http://www.ala.org/rt/emiert/cskbookawards/csk50.

Elisa Gall & Marguerite Penick-Parks are Chair and member of the CSK Book Awards Donation Grant Committee, respectively.

Experiencing the Coretta Scott King Book Awards through Audiobooks

As we celebrate 50 years of the the Coretta Scott King (CSK) Book Awards, many of these award-winning and honor titles have resonated with many of us throughout this celebratory time.  Today, however, we want to acknowledge CSK titles that offer the same level of intrigue through the mesmerizing experience of audiobooks by highlighting a few remarkable and memorable selections.  

Reading a book is definitely an excellent way to enjoy a story, but experiencing that story in an audiobook version can be just as enjoyable, if not more, depending on the title.  Oftentimes, audiobooks are viewed as “not reading” and tend to be overlooked. Nevertheless, select audiobooks, including CSK titles, can elevate these stories, serving as a means to catapult young people into an unexpected and pleasant ride full of captivating music, vivacious characters heard in various voices, or stunning sound effects.  In addition, audiobooks offer several benefits for youth and teens that are worth noting.

Benefits of audiobooks

  • Promote active listening and offer engaging entertainment
  • Introduce vocabulary and increase comprehension skills
  • Foster an interest in reading through high quality narration, often from well-trained actors, actresses, or skilled authors (e.g. Jason Reynolds)
  • Provide an opportunity to experience a book that is higher than one’s reading level

In this digital age, audiobooks can be enjoyed in a number of ways beyond the traditional CD format; for instance, eAudiobooks are easily accessible from a smartphone, tablet, or browser.  Furthermore, this convenient format migrates well on the go, in the car, or on a walk.

Now, let’s take a look at a few CSK titles that are worth a listen if you have yet to hear any of these works.  

Notably, Trombone Shorty and The Hate U Give are a couple of CSK titles that should be promoted and experienced in the audiobook format since they represent the extraordinary sound of storytelling in an unforgettable way. In fact, any of the CSK titles as audiobooks could potentially heighten the story for a listener in such a way that the memories of the production linger long after the story ends for an awe-inspiring journey that could never be muted.  

Ashley Mensah is the Customer Service Manager at the Pickerington Public Library and the newly elected corresponding secretary for the CSK Book Awards Executive Board.  She currently serves on the CSK Technology and Publication Committees. 

Love for Honey, I Love

On Sunday, June 24, 2018, in New Orleans, I attended my very first Coretta Scott King Awards Breakfast where Jason Reynolds warmed up the room by saying, “My cousin comes to visit and you know he’s from the South / ‘Cause every word he says just kind of slides out of his mouth” and, BOOM, just like that the room remembered and followed along, chuckling softly. I hadn’t heard or thought about those words since I was a little girl but in an instant I smiled and went back to being little-me, peering inside the little pocket-sized gem that is Honey, I Love and Other Love Poems.

Eloise Greenfield and Alia Jones

I had the pleasure of meeting Eloise Greenfield the day before the Coretta Scott King Awards Breakfast at her Virginia Hamilton Award celebration. I stood outside of her circle of admirers, friends and greeters, waiting for my turn to say hello. I told her how much I love and appreciate her work and then asked if I could take a quick picture with her. She has a quiet, kind manner about her.

A few months later, I remembered Jason Reynolds telling us at the breakfast that he kept a copy of Honey, I Love in his back pocket when he was young because it was an important text for him. So, I went to the bookstore and bought myself a little paperback copy, too. Though I consider it to be a part of my “canon” of black children’s books, I’m pretty certain I never owned a copy as a child. Because the book has been on my mind lately, I included it in a guest lecture I gave this past March at Cornell University. The title of my lecture was: Challenging the White Default: Diversity and Representation in Children’s Literature.

I enjoyed rediscovering the book in preparation for the lecture; it’s such a gorgeous celebration of black childhood. I forgot to bring my copy with me to Ithaca, so I visited the Tompkins County Public Library to copy down the first poem, “Honey, I Love.” I opened my lecture by showcasing books I loved in addition to Honey, I Love, like I Need a Lunch Box, Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters and Jambo Means Hello. And then I spoke “Honey, I Loveout loud and into existence in that space. I wanted to show the power, endurance and beauty of diverse children’s literature, of black children’s literature. It was such a privilege to share it.

Alia Lecturing at Cornell University

I lectured at Cornell University only a few weeks after my mother passed away from a long battle with colon cancer. This stanza of the poem really resonated with me: “My mama’s on the sofa sewing buttons on my coat / I go and sit beside her, I’m through playing with my boat / I hold her arm and kiss it ‘cause it feels so soft and warm / Honey, let me tell you that I LOVE my mama’s arm / I love to kiss my mama’s arm.” My mama had a soft, brown arm, too, and I’m grateful for such a vivid, positive image of black motherhood and love.

Honey, I Love by Eloise Greenfield

It’s important that black children grow up seeing themselves in all shades & variations of blackness in books. The Coretta Scott King Book Awards do such important work in highlighting and celebrating these stories, authors and illustrators. As a kid growing up in the 90s, it wasn’t easy to find many beautiful images of blackness in books, but when I found texts like Honey, I Love by Eloise Greenfield, they reassured me that my black existence mattered. I’m so thrilled to celebrate fifty years of the Coretta Scott King Book Awards and can’t wait to see what the next fifty years of black books bring for our children.

Alia Jones is a member of the Coretta Scott King Book Awards Committee/Community. She is a Sr. Library Services Assistant at The Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County and blogs at readitrealgood.com.

CSK Through the Decades: The 2010s!

As Coretta Scott King Book Awards celebrate 50 years strong, one can only imagine how proud the founders and contributors are.  50 years strong!  What a platform!

We cannot forget how the past winners expanded and transformed recognition of African American Literature. Over the decades, award winners continued to build and raise the foundation of excellence.  They challenged 2010-2019 winners to step their talents to the next level by sharing their stories and experiences through art and words.  And, that they did. These winners did not disappoint.  Like our past award winners, many moved on to become the best of the best and a permanent fixture in youth literature; many received multiple nationally distinguished awards.

We have seen consistent author and illustrator name recognitions during this decade.With over 60 titles under his belt (seven Coretta Scott King honors and counting), R. Gregory Christie has captured three Coretta Scott King honors this decade:  The Book Itch: Freedom, Truth & Harlem’s Greatest Bookstore (2016), Freedom in Congo Square (2017)and Memphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop (2019).Christie is the proud owner of a bookstore GAS ART GIFTS (Gregarious Art Statements); this store also houses an art studio. Aside from his book illustrations, Christie’s work has been featured at festivals, subways, music covers and television.  In 2013, he created the United States Post Office “Kwanzaa Forever” stamp. What a well deserved honor!

Likewise, Ekua Holmes received a Coretta Scott King Award for Illustration in 2018 for Out of Wonder: Poems Celebrating Poets and in 2019 for The Stuff of Stars.  Like many, she was influenced by absence of positive Black images and decided to make an impact by becoming the founder of The Great Black Art Collection – a platform for new artists and introduction of Black art to all. Museums and galleries drew Holmes into the art world.  In turn, this drew her into stories.  Before long her artwork made its way to books. Holmes’ collages are full of life, color and texture as though they are ready to jump out. This year, debuted nationally on January 19th, Holmes created a Google Doodle in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday – what a tribute! 

Very few have had books competing for the same awards during the same year yet Jason Reynolds managed that!  And, he had snagged the John Steptoe New Talent Award for When I Was the Greatest the previous year, 2015! In a short period he has received four Coretta Scott King Author Honor Awards: All American Boys and The Boy in the Black Suit (2016); As Brave as You (2017) and Long Way Down (2017). What makes his novels and poetry for middle schoolers and teens so special?  From his personal website, his goal is to “not write boring books”; he states, “Here’s what I know: I know there are a lot — A LOT — of young people who hate reading… I know that many of these book-hating boys, don’t actually hate books, they hate boredom. If you are reading this, and you happen to be one of these boys, first of all, you’re reading this so my master plan is already working (muahahahahahaha) and second of all, know that I feel you. I REALLY do. Because even though I’m a writer, I hate reading boring books too.” 

Winning three Coretta Scott King Author Awards this decade for One Crazy Summer (2011), P.S. Be Eleven (2014), and Gone Crazy in Alabama (2016), Rita Williams-Garcia shares her characters in the moment of history or place.  Recognized for her great character development and humor, Williams-Garcia focuses on day-to-day lives of middle class African American youth. She is subtle with her messages. Readers engage with the characters Williams-Garcia brings alive.  Her excitement for writing comes across in her 12 titles. Her readers truly feel a sense of place and imagination.

Receiving a Coretta Scott King Author Award in 2015 for Brown Girl Dreaming and a Coretta Scott King Author Honor Award in 2013 for Each Kindness during this decade, Jacqueline Woodson has taken her writing style through many levels and has something to offer readers of all ages.  With over 30 titles under her belt, topics covered in her writing range widely in content to the point that some feel subject matters are uncomfortable.  Through her poetic writing, Woodson dares readers to look at the big picture – how do societal influences we have today compared to subject matters she writes about? Readers are challenged to address difficult topics.

Although they were mentioned in the CSK Blog post titled, CSK Through the Decades: The 2000s, Bryan Collier and Kadir Nelson continued to breakthrough as high caliber artists during the 2010 period. Collier captured four CSK wins: 2011 Dave the Potter: Artist, Poet, Slave (2011), I, Too, Am America (2013), Knock Knock: My Dad’s Dream for Me (2014), and  Trombone Shorty (2016). Nelson, won Illustrator Honors in 2013 for I Have a Dream: Martin Luther King, Jr, and in 2014 for Nelson Mandela. He also received both a CSK Author win in 2012 for text and an Honor for illustrations for Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans

Through their eyes and talent, the 2010-2019 winners bring unity and diversity. These authors and illustrators have expanded our platform. Their work is appreciated by all ages; there is something for everyone. They have expanded our imagination.  They have educated us. Through their love and drive, 2010-2019 winners continue to challenge themselves with their talent. Yet there is much more space for the future to wow us, and we cannot wait to see what is to come. Together, we are 50+ years strong.

Sandy Wee is Library Services Manager, Access Services, at San Mateo County (CA) Libraries. She is a member of the CSK Marketing Committee.

Refection of an Experience with a Coretta Scott King Book Awards Winning Author

Christopher Paul Curtis and I are longtime special friends who celebrate the pervasive prominence of the Coretta Scott King Awards and salute their enduring legacy on this occasion of the fiftieth anniversary.

In 1995, I attended the annual National Council of Teachers of English convention.  Scanning the program, I noted a session featuring an African American author named Christopher Paul Curtis who was to appear in a panel discussion.  His name was slightly familiar, but I could not remember a context in which I had heard of him.  With heightened curiosity and my ongoing search for emerging African American voices, I proceeded into the venue announced in the printed program. Christopher and another author who were seated on stage read from their books.  Christopher read from his newly published book, The Watsons Go to Birmingham – 1965 (a Coretta Scott King Book Awards Honor).  I realized immediately I had discovered a truly gifted storyteller. When I approached him at the end of the session to commend him and introduce myself, I was affected by the humility with which he accepted my comments.  His radiating smile portended a new friendship that would be forever and everlasting. 

The School of Library and Information Sciences had been sponsoring a biennial symposium on African American children’s literature at the time Christopher and I met.  I invited him to deliver a keynote address at the event the next year.  He was spectacular as I had expected.  From that appearance, at least in North Carolina, his celebrity was firmly established and I was thrilled for him and readers everywhere. 

The publication of Bud, Not Buddy brought special accolades of the Coretta Scott King Books Award and the Newbery Medal in 2000.  I was present at the Breakfast and the Dinner among the hundreds of others to celebrate the accomplishment.  The book was personally gratifying for me as Christopher had asked me to read the manuscript.  We had memorable discussions about my opinions as I continuously predicted it to be an award-winning bestselling novel.

In 2008, the year following the publication of Elijah of Buxton which won the Coretta Scott King Books Award, I visited Christopher who was living in Windsor, Ontario, Canada.  The setting of the novel is Buxton, a historical settlement in Canada on the Underground Railroad.  My surprise during the visit was a trip to the Buxton National Historic Site and Museum.  It was a wonderfully enlightening Sunday afternoon of exploring the grounds and reliving the literarily acclaimed story of Elijah, the first free child born in Buxton.

Christopher had always said he had to return to Bud Not Buddy because he wanted the character Dessa (Deza) Malone who makes a slight appearance to have her own story. He sent the manuscript, The Might Miss Malone, to me to read.  I was at once intrigued by the 12 year-old main character, Deza, who aspires to be a teacher.  In chapter, I came to a complete stop overwhelmed by what I was reading!  Deza’s brother had taken a pie from a window sill placed there to cool.  His parents directed him to return the pie, apologize, and seek terms of restitution.  With Deza by his side, they meet the woman described as “A very pretty, very tall and distinctive-looking woman with a glorious mane of pulled-back silver-and-black hair and tiny glasses on her nose…”.  She eventually introduced herself, “My name is Dr. Bracy.”

One could only imagine how I felt: surprised and shocked, but elated and ecstatic.  I was also humbled and hoped that he would realize my humility as the same from the impression I had of him when we first met. 

Pauletta Brown Bracy is Associate Professor at the School of Library and Information Sciences of North Carolina Central University. She is the Immediate Past President of the Coretta Scott King Book Awards Committee and the 2019 winner of the Coretta Scott King – Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime Achievement.

#CSK 50 Celebration: Takoma Park Maryland Library and Politics & Prose

Photo credit: Maurice Belanger

On Tuesday, April 30, the Takoma Park Maryland Library and Politics & Prose hosted a special celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Coretta Scott King Book Awards, and it truly was a conversation for the ages. Skillfully led by moderator Deborah D. Taylor, our two presenters –legendary poet Eloise Greenfield and best-selling author Jason Reynolds — talked about how and why they write for children, their mutual love of the “musicality” of language, and the importance for all young readers to see themselves in books.

Taylor succinctly summed up the importance and celebratory feeling of the evening for the audience of over 150 people by noting that “it is something very special and very unusual to be able to talk to two people who have been both at the beginning of something and at the current level of recognition of outstanding work.”

Photo credit: Maurice Belanger

 In fact, all three people on the stage at our event were Coretta Scott King Award winners: Greenfield and Taylor are both winners of the CSK-Virginia Hamilton Lifetime Achievement Award (Taylor in 2015, and Greenfield in 2018), while Reynolds has won the 2015 CSK-John Steptoe Award for new talent and three CSK Author Honors.  Taylor stunned Reynolds by telling him that only one other author had won Coretta Scott King Awards in four consecutive years – Virginia Hamilton. Reynolds noted in an Instagram post later that evening: “I couldn’t believe it. Virginia Hamilton and me. Isabell’s son. I’m still reeling from that.” 

The through line from Greenfield, who will soon turn 90, to the 35-year-old Reynolds is a strong and personal one. Indeed, Reynolds spoke of how he once worked in a bookstore specializing in African American writers and hand-sold – and also purchased for his own young relatives — many copies of Greenfield’s classic book, Honey, I Love. But Reynolds’ connection to Greenfield began even earlier; when he was 15 years old, he heard Greenfield read from her books at the main branch of the Washington, D.C. library system.

Photo credit: Maurice Belanger

“It means the world to me, 20 years later, to sit next to her and share a stage,” Reynolds said, adding that Greenfield’s writing “helped me to understand another version of what poetry could be… how much you could say with a bit of brevity.”

Greenfield, meanwhile, talked about what drew her into the world of children’s literature, with a special focus on African American children. “… it was very important to me to see that this work was being done,” she said. “My goal is to make children know how much they are loved…. I want them to be proud of themselves and have confidence in themselves because the world is not always that kind to them and to us who are Black.”

Photo credit: Maurice Belanger

Greenfield and Reynolds also talked about their writing process. In the Q&A following the main presentation, Greenfield, who has just published Thinker: My Puppy Poet and Me, was asked what are the “peaks” and the “pits” of writing. Greenfield responded: “It’s all tough.” She added that, because she writes for children, “people ask, ‘Didn’t you have fun writing this? No, I didn’t! I want the children who read it to have fun, but I didn’t have fun…. It’s hard work, but it’s very, very satisfying work.” Reynolds agreed, noting: “I tell everyone, ‘If you like it, somebody really suffered for it.”

Photo credit: Maurice Belanger

One of the most interesting questions of the evening was asked by a young audience member, who asked if Greenfield and Reynolds would ever collaborate. Reynolds immediately replied: “It would be my dream.” Greenfield added: “That would be wonderful.”

These are just a few of the many unforgettable moments during our 50th CSK anniversary event. Fortunately, there’s a way for everyone to enjoy the entire evening by clicking on this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ulz6JsKoya4&feature=youtu.be It’s well worth watching!

Karen MacPherson is the children’s & young adult manager at the Takoma Park Maryland Library, a member of EMIERT, and on the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC) Board of Directors.

#CSK50 Celebration Event in Langston Hughes House with I, Too Arts Collective

Lesa Cline-Ransome, Renée Watson, Rita Williams-Garcia and Tiffany Jackson
Photo credit: Danielle Privat

On April 23, in the living room of Langston Hughes’s Harlem brownstone, four Coretta Scott King Award recipients gathered to share their stories of winning the honor and what it means to them. Mutual admiration radiated from Lesa Cline-Ransome, Tiffany Jackson, Renee Watson, and Rita Williams-Garcia, to the delight of the enthusiastic audience. Perched next to one of Hughes’s typewriters, Jennifer Baker from Minorities in Publishing moderated the four writers through a discussion of their inspirations and paths to authorship, and the eventful mornings their phones rang to make them award winners.

Tiffany Jackson, 2019 Steptoe winnter, with Bweela Steptoe Photo credit: Susan Polos

Cline-Ransome described her joy at being recognized for Finding Langston after nearly two decades of publishing books for young readers. Children’s literature, she explained, allowed her to investigate people’s lives and follow her passion for writing without having to talk to interview subjects, as a journalist would. As a child, Jackson, the John Steptoe New Talent Award winner for Monday’s Not Coming, sought out the CSK “sticker books” but never imagined becoming a recipient herself. She confessed how little she knew about the award process before publishing her first YA novel; CSK regular Jason Reynolds broke it to her that she should expect to speak at the awards breakfast.

Renee Watson detailed the surreal experience of receiving calls about Piecing Me Together from the Newbery committee and the CSK jury on the same morning, hearing from the Newbery group first. When the phone rang a second time, her first thought was “no take backs!” but fortunately, the call came from the CSK committee with more wonderful news. Rita Williams-Garcia–a four-time CSK winner for Like Sisters on the Homefront, One Crazy Summer, P.S. Be Eleven, and Gone Crazy in Alabama–reiterated the particular delight of recognition from the Coretta Scott King jury. “The N-bery is lovely, but winning the CSK is like hearing mama say she approves.”  

Photo credit: Susan Polos

The Coretta Scott King Book Awards Committee cosponsored the event with I, Too Arts Collective, a non-profit organization founded by Renee Watson and dedicated to cultivating underrepresented voices in the arts. The evening brought together librarians, students, writers, family and more to celebrate these notable women and the award’s rich history. Asked about their own inspirations and influences, the authors offered support for each other and shouted out some favorite CSK winners over the years, especially current National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, Jacqueline Woodson, both for the lyricism of her writing and her way of being in the world. What they admire in her, they each strive to provide in their own writing: to reflect and validate the experience of other African-American readers, from D.C. to the Pacific Northwest. As the Coretta Scott King Book Award community honors the impact of the award for 50 years, these four authors demonstrate its power–to inspire, to commemorate, and to shine a light.

Celebrate 50 Years Strong: The Coretta Scott King Awards KidLit TV recording:

Robbin Friedman is a Children’s Librarian at the Chappaqua Public Library in Chappaqua, NY. She is a member of the CSK Community.