Award Winning Black Illustrators
• In 1938 the Caldecott Medal (named for Randolph Caldecott, a nineteenth-century English illustrator) was established by the American Library Association to honor the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children.
• In 1962, The Snowy Day, written and illustrated by Ezra Jack Keats, a Jewish artist, was the first mainstream picture book to portray a Black child as a protagonist. It was awarded the Caldecott Medal, and is still among the most popular books for children of all time.
• In 1969, since no person of color had won a Caldecott Medal since the award was established, a group of African-American librarians promoted the creation of a new award, the Coretta Scott King Book Award to honor outstanding Black authors and illustrators of children’s books. The award’s name was intentionally chosen to honor recently assassinated Martin Luther King Jr. and his wife, Coretta Scott King. The CSK Illustrator Medal was first awarded in 1974 but was not awarded on a yearly basis until 1986, when Jerry Pinkney won the award, as he did again in 1987 and 1989.
• In 1976 Leo and Diane Dillon (an interracial couple) won the Caldecott Medal, making Leo the first illustrator of color to receive the award.
• In 1982 the CSK award was officially recognized by the American Library Association.
More than half of the Caldecott Honors and Medals that were given to Black children book artists, were given in the last ten years. We are pleased that Black illustrators are finally being recognized for their talent and celebrate those in this exhibition, who are among the pre-eminent artists of our time.
The Snowy Day remains a cultural touchstone. It was the first picture book where Black children could see a protagonist that looked like them. When The Snowy Day first came out in 1962, there were virtually no children’s books with a Black main character. Up to that point, if there were people of color in a children’s book, they were either relegated to the background or used to reinforce negative stereotypes. The Snowy Day is the most checked out book in The New York Public Library’s 125-year history (followed by The Cat in the Hat, 1984, Where the Wild Things Are and To Kill a Mockingbird).
Leo Dillon and Diane Sorber married in 1957, a decade before Loving v. Virginia struck down anti-miscegenation laws. They won the prestigious Caldecott Medals for children’s book illustrations two years in a row (1976 and 1977), the only consecutive awards ever given. Leo was the first Black artist to win the award, and still the only one to have won twice. The Dillons also received two Coretta Scott King Awards, four New York Times Best Illustrated Awards, and four Boston Globe/Horn Book Awards.
Jerry Pinkney has illustrated over one hundred titles and is the first solo Black artist to win the prestigious Caldecott Medal for picture book illustration. He also has five Caldecott Honors, five Coretta Scott King Awards, four Coretta Scott King Honors, five New York Times Best Illustrated Awards, and a Boston Globe–Horn Book Award. He is the most honored and influential Black illustrator alive today. In 2016 he won the Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal for a substantial and lasting contribution to children’s literature as well as the Coretta Scott King – Virginia Hamilton Award for lifetime achievement.
Pat Cummings graduated from Pratt Institute in NYC. She was awarded the Coretta Scott King Medal in 1984, and was twice a Coretta Scott King Honor Awardee. She has also received the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work for Children. She teaches children’s book illustration at Pratt and Parsons, preparing students for a career in children’s books, and likely inspiring more minority illustrators to enter the field than any other illustrator.
Ekua Holmes’ first picture book, Voice of Freedom, Fannie Lou Hamer: Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement garnered a Caldecott Honor, a Robert F. Sibert Honor, and the Coretta Scott King John Steptoe award for New Talent. Holmes’ was awarded the Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award in 2018 for Out of Wonder and her second Coretta Scott King Award for her third book, The Stuff of Stars.
Five-time Coretta Scott King award winner, EB Lewis has also received a Caldecott Honor, a New York Times Best Illustrated Book Award and numerous other honors for his more than 70 picture books, two of which are collaborations with his friend, poet and gallery owner, Richard Michelson.
Brian Pinkney is the illustrator of many highly-praised picture books including Ella Fitzgerald, Sit-In and Duke Ellington, all written by his wife Andrea Davis-Pinkney. Brian has won numerous awards including two Caldecott Honors, four Coretta Scott King Honors and a Coretta Scott King Award, and the Boston Globe/Horn Book Award.
Eric Velasquez, the son of Afro-Puerto Rican parents, was born in Spanish Harlem and grew up in Harlem. Eric’s first picture book won the Coretta-Scott King/John Steptoe Award for New Talent. In 2010 Eric was awarded an NAACP Image award and he was also nominated for a 2011 NAACP Image Award. Twice as Good, written by author and gallery owner Richard Michelson, was a finalist for the Harlem Book Fest Phillis Wheatly Award, and contains a blurb by President Barack Obama.
Bryan Collier uses watercolor and collage to create his masterful illustrations. Collier has received numerous awards for his writing and illustrations, including four Caldecott Honors, and nine Coretta Scott King Awards (three honors and six winners). Early in his career, Collier also received the Ezra Jack Keats New Illustrator Award, and he has often spoken about his love of The Snowy Day.
Curated by Richard Michelson
Richard Michelson, poet and children’s book writer, was born in 1953 in East New York, Brooklyn. The neighborhood was 95% Jewish and Michelson’s parents attended High School with Ezra Jack Keats. By the time Michelson left Brooklyn, the neighborhood was 95% Black, sparking a lifelong interest in racial justice issues. Michelson’s books have been listed among the Ten Best of the Year by The New York Times, Publishers Weekly, and The New Yorker; and among the best Dozen of the Decade by Amazon.com. He has received a National Jewish Book Award, two Sydney Taylor Gold Medals, three Skipping Stones Multicultural Book Awards, and a Harlem Book Fest Phillis Wheatley Honor. His work was chosen to “highlight the literary culture and history of Massachusetts” at the 2018 Library of Congress National Book Festival.
In 2008 Richard and his wife, Jennifer, purchased an Oak Bluffs Campground Cottage, where he can often be found writing on his porch after each morning’s Polar Bear Swim. Michelson first visited Featherstone in 2010 when he was invited to read as part of the Summer Poetry Series. He has been a regular visitor since and is honored to partner with Ann Smith and Featherstone in bringing this exhibit to Martha’s Vineyard.