50 Years of the Coretta Scott King Book Awards:
A conversation with nine winners and committee members who have been part of the influential children’s book awards.
This is just the smallest smattering of titles that have won Coretta Scott King (CSK) Book Awards in the last half-century. Founded in 1969, the awards have become the mark of excellence for books that are authored or illustrated by African Americans and that demonstrate an appreciation of African-American culture and universal human values.
In addition to awards and honors for authors and illustrators, the John Steptoe Award for New Talent and the CSK–Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime Achievement are also presented annually.
American Libraries celebrates this amazing half-century of excellence by sharing stories and thoughts from nine of the awards’ winners and committee members.
When you were a child, did you have access to many books that featured black characters?
Ashley Bryan: No, not when I was growing up.
Eloise Greenfield: In the 1930s, I didn’t encounter any books with African-American characters, but I didn’t know that the characters depicted were supposed to be white people. They didn’t look like the white people I saw. Many books used line drawings, black lines around white paper. Later, I knew better.
Claire Hartfield: When I was a kid—I mostly had my childhood in the Sixties—I don’t remember black people being portrayed much in mainstream culture at all. The civil rights movement was going on at the same time, so I was well aware of Martin Luther King Jr. and the Black Panther Party, but it didn’t trickle down into the books I was given.
As a little kid, I didn’t think, “Gee, why are there no portrayals?” It was more along the lines of: “Well, that’s just the way it is.” No one ever asked me about it. It wasn’t till later that I realized there was an absence.