Ashley Bryan

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Ashley Bryan
Ashley Bryan by Sue Hill of Winters Work Gift Shop, Islesford, Maine, 2007
Ashley Bryan in 2007
Born (1923-07-13) July 13, 1923 (age 90)[1]
New York, New York, USA[1]
Occupation Writer, illustrator, college teacher
Nationality American
Ethnicity African American
Education Cooper Union School of Art. Advanced degrees : Columbia University, New York, University of Marseilles(Aix-en-Provence), University of Freiburg (Germany).
Alma mater Cooper Union school[1]
Genres children's picture books
Subjects African American studies
Notable work(s)
  • Dancing Granny
  • Beat the Story-Drum, Pum-Pum
  • Beautiful Blackbird
Notable award(s) Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal
Virginia Hamilton Award

Ashley F. Bryan (born July 13, 1923) is an American writer and illustrator of children's books. Most of his subjects are from the African American experience. He was U.S. nominee for the Hans Christian Andersen Award in 2006[2] and he won the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award for his contribution to American children's literature in 2009.[3]


Bryan was born in Harlem and raised in the Bronx (both in New York City). His father worked as a printer of greeting cards and loved birds. Bryan once counted a hundred caged birds in his childhood home.[1] He grew up with six brothers and sisters and three cousins. Bryan recalls his childhood in New York during the 1930s as an idyllic time, full of art and music.[1] He excelled in school, graduating from high school at the age sixteen.[4]

University studies and military service[edit]

Bryan attended the Cooper Union Art School, one of the few African-American students at that time to be awarded a scholarship. He had applied to other schools who had rejected him on the basis of race,[4] but Cooper Union administered its scholarships in a blind test: "You put your work in a tray, sculpture, drawing, painting, and it was judged. They never saw you. If you met the requirements, tuition was free, and it still is to this day," explained Bryan.[4]

At the age of nineteen, World War II interrupted his studies. He was drafted and assigned to serve as a porter in Europe.[4] He was so ill-suited to this work that his fellow soldiers often encouraged him to step aside and draw.[4] He always kept a sketch pad in his gas mask.[4]

When he returned to New York, he exhibited the drawings he'd made as a soldier.[4] He then went on to Columbia University to study philosophy. He wanted to understand war.[4] After the war, Bryan received a Fulbright Scholarship to study in Europe.[clarification needed]


Bryan taught art at Queen's College, Lafayette College, and Dartmouth College. He retired as emeritus professor of art at Dartmouth in the 1980s.[1]


Bryan was not published until he was forty years old.[4] In 1962, he was the first African American to publish a children's book as an author and illustrator.[4] "I never gave up. Many were more gifted than I but they gave up. They dropped out. What they faced out there in the world--they gave up."[4]


In the 1980s, when Bryan retired from Dartmouth, he moved to Maine. In addition to writing and illustration he also enjoys making puppets, building stained glass windows from beach glass, creating papier-mâché, and making collages.[4]

Awards and honors[edit]

Bryan has received two American Library Association career literary awards for his "significant and lasting contributions", the 2009 Wilder Medal and the 2012 King–Hamilton Award. The Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal from the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC) biennially recognizes one writer or illustrator of children's books published in the U.S. The committee named Dancing Granny, Beat the Story-Drum, Pum-Pum, and Beautiful Blackbird in particular and cited his "varied art forms".[3][5] The Coretta Scott King–Virginia Hamilton Award from the Ethnic & Multicultural Information Exchange Round Table (EMIERT) biennially recognizes one African-American writer or illustrator of children's or young-adult literature.[6][7] In 2005 the Atlanta literary festival was named for him[4] and he has also received the University of Southern Mississippi Medallion from the Fay B. Kaigler Children's Book Festival.

For his lifetime work as a children's illustrator, Bryan was U.S. nominee in 2006 for the biennial, international Hans Christian Andersen Award, the highest recognition for creators of children's books.[2]

Awards for particular works

For particular books he has been honored several times including two Coretta Scott King Awards for illustration, the Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award from the Pennsylvania State University, the Lupine Award from the Maine Library Association, and the Golden Kite Award for nonfiction.

  • 1981, Coretta Scott King Award, illustrator, Beat the Story Drum, Pum-Pum[7]
  • 2008, Coretta Scott King Award, illustrator, Let it Shine: Three Favorite Spirituals[7]
  • 2010, Golden Kite Award, nonfiction, Ashley Bryan: Words to My Life's Song

He was also a runner-up for seven of the annual Coretta Scott King Awards with one Honor Book as both writer and illustrator—Lion and the Ostrich Chicks and Other African Folk Tales in 1987—and five more as illustrator: I'm Going to Sing: Black American Spirituals in 1983, What a Morning! The Christmas Story in Black Spirituals in 1988, All Night, All Day: A Child's First Book of African American Spirituals in 1992, Ashley Bryan's ABC of African American Poetry in 1998, and Beautiful Blackbird in 2004.[7]

Selected works[edit]

  • ABCs of African American Poetry
  • African Tales, Uh-Huh
  • All Night, All Day: A Child's First Book of African American Spirituals
  • Aneesa Lee and the Weaver's Gift (illustrator)
  • Ashley Bryan: Words to My Life's Song
  • Beat the Story Drum, Pum-Pum
  • Beautiful Blackbird
  • Dancing Granny
  • How God Fix Jonah
  • I'm Going to Sing: Black American Spirituals
  • Let it Shine: Three Favorite Spirituals
  • Lion and the Ostrich Chicks and Other African Folk Tales
  • My America (co-illustrator)
  • Salting the Ocean
  • Sing to the Sun
  • The Night Has Ears
  • The Story of Lightning and Thunder
  • The Story of the Three Kingdoms (illustrator)
  • What a Morning! The Christmas Story in Black Spirituals
  • What a Wonderful World (illustrator)
  • Who Built the Stable?
  • "Can't Scare Me"

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f "Ashley F. Bryan". Answers Corporation. 2009. Retrieved 2009-03-14. 
  2. ^ a b "IBBY Announces the Winners of the Hans Christian Andersen Awards 2006". International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY). Press release 27 March 2006.
      "Hans Christian Andersen Awards". IBBY. Retrieved 2013-07-23.
  3. ^ a b "Welcome to the (Laura Ingalls) Wilder Award home page!". Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC). American Library Association (ALA). 2009. Archived from the original on 2010-02-01. Retrieved 2013-06-10. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Silver, Mary (April 4, 2009). "I Never Gave Up: Ashley Bryan's Autobiography Published". The Epoch Times (Atlanta: The Epoch Times). Retrieved 2009-04-11. 
  5. ^ "Laura Ingalls Wilder Award, Past winners". ALSC. ALA.
    "About the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award". ALSC. ALA. Retrieved 2013-03-10.
  6. ^ "Ashley Bryan 2012 recipient of the Coretta Scott King-Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime Achievement". Press release January 23, 2012. ALA. Retrieved 2012-07-05.
  7. ^ a b c d "Coretta Scott King Book Awards". ALA. Retrieved 2012-07-05.
  • "Ashley Bryan". Gale Literary Databases Contemporary Authors Online. Archived from the original on 10 February 2009. Retrieved 2009-03-14.  (subscription required)
  • "Bryan, Ashley". Pennsylvania State University. Retrieved 2009-03-14. 

External links[edit]