Our Voice: Celebrating the Coretta Scott King Illustrator Awards

November 08, 2019 to February 09, 2020

This exhibit was organized by the National Center for Children's Illustrated Literature in Abilene, Texas. Named for Mrs. Coretta Scott King, these awards recognize the works of outstanding African American authors and illustrators and uphold the vital importance of children’s literature that celebrates African American life and culture. Awarded annually by the American Library Association (ALA) for books about the African American experience, Coretta Scott King Book Awards are among the brightest acknowledgments of children’s literature on America’s cultural landscape. The awards commemorate the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and honor his wife, Mrs. Coretta Scott King, for her courage and determination to continue the work for peace and world brotherhood.

Nearly half a century ago, the public outcry for diverse books for children ignited the Coretta Scott King Book Award's founding. In1969, two determined librarians, Mabel McKissick and Glyndon Greer, attended the ALA Annual Conference in Atlantic City. Discouraged by the lack of diverse representation among awards given to children's books, they struck out to create an award that would offer a much-deserved spotlight to African American children's book creators. The first Coretta Scott King Book Award was given to Lillie Patterson in 1970 for her biography, Martin Luther King, Jr.: Man of Peace. By 1974, awards were given to both authors and illustrators. In 1974, George Ford became the first illustrator to receive the award for Ray Charles.

In 1979, the Coretta Scott King Task Force was formed and became part of ALA's Social Responsibilities Round Table (SRRT) the next year. In 1982, the Coretta Scott King Book Awards became an officially recognized ALA award. The Coretta Scott King Task Force joined ALA's Ethnic and Multicultural Information Exchange Round Table (EMIERT) in 2003, and became the Coretta Scott King Book Awards Committee.

In 1995, the Coretta Scott King Book awards established the John Steptoe Award for New Talent (originally the Genesis Award) to recognize exceptional work from new African American authors and illustrators. The first Steptoe Award was given to Sharon Draper for Tears of a Tiger. In 2010, the Coretta Scott King Book Awards expanded to include the Coretta Scott King/Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime Achievement. Presented to children's book creators and practitioners who are involved in the active engagement of using award-winning African American children's literature to spark the imaginations of young minds through literacy-related activities and programs. The recipient of the first Virginia Hamilton Award was Walter Dean Myers.

Source: American Library Association
A special 'Thank You' to Andrea Pinkney for her contribution to this essay.