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 97)[1]
New York City, US[1]
OccupationWriter, illustrator, teacher
EducationCooper Union School of Art
Columbia University
University of Marseilles
University of Freiburg
Genrechildren's picture books
SubjectAfrican American studies
Notable works
  • Dancing Granny
  • Beat the Story-Drum, Pum-Pum
  • Beautiful Blackbird
Notable awardsLaura 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] Ashley Bryan's Freedom Over Me was short-listed for the 2016 Kirkus Prize and received a Newbery Honor.

Early years[edit]


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][4] 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 learned to draw, paint, and play instruments at school from artists and musicians participating in the Work Projects Administration program.[4] With books he checked out of the library, Bryan made his own, temporary collection at home. He particularly enjoyed poetry, folktales, and fairy tales; stories that could be told within a brief span of pages.[5]

University studies and military service[edit]

Bryan attended the Cooper Union Art School, the only African-American student at that time. He had applied to other schools who had rejected him on the basis of race,[6] 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.[6]

At the age of nineteen, World War II interrupted his studies. He was drafted into the U.S. Army and assigned to serve in a segregated unit as a member of a Port Battalion, landing at Omaha Beach on D-Day.[6] He was so ill-suited to this work that his fellow soldiers often encouraged him to step aside and draw.[6] He always kept a sketch pad in his gas mask.[6]

In 1946, he entered the graduate school Columbia University to study philosophy. He wanted to understand war.[6] After the war, Bryan received a Fulbright Scholarship to study at the University of Marseille at Aix-en-Provence and later returning for two years to study at the University of Freiburg in Germany.[7]

Career and retirement[edit]

Professor and writer[edit]

Bryan taught art at Queen's College, Philadelphia College of Art, Lafayette College, and Dartmouth College. He retired as emeritus professor of art at Dartmouth in 1988.

Bryan was not published until he was forty years old.[6] In 1962, he was the first African American to publish a children's book as an author and illustrator.[6] "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."[6]


In the late 1980s, when Bryan retired from Dartmouth, he moved to Little Cranberry Island in Maine. In addition to painting, writing and illustration he also enjoys making puppets, building stained glass windows from beach glass, creating papier-mâché, and making collages.[6] The Ashley Bryan Center, (a 501c3) was formed in 2013 to preserve, protect and care for Bryan's art, his collections, his books and to promote his legacy.

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][8] 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.[9][10] In 2008 Bryan was named a Literary Lion by The New York Public Library. In 2005 the Atlanta literary festival was named for him[6] 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]

The Ashley Bryan Art series was established at the African American Research Library and Cultural Center of the Broward County Library in 2002. Dr.Henrietta M. Smith, Professor Emerita at the University of South Florida (USF) School of Information, worked with the Broward County Library to establish the children's book author and illustrator art series named for Ashley Bryan. Mr. Smith was also the lector for the 2003 Alice G. Smith Lecture, a lecture series held at the USF School of Information "to honor the memory of its first director, Alice Gullen Smith, known for her work with youth and bibliotherapy."[11] In 2012 the Ashley Bryan Art series celebrated ten years of exhibits and programs.[12] "The series began with Ashley Bryan submitting eight original art pieces to the library to serve as core of the art collection."[12] It became "a children's book author and illustrator series which has brought Coretta Scott King-Award winning authors and illustrators whose work reflected African culture to the library".[12] "The Ashley Bryan Art series has had a long-lasting cultural effect upon the community bringing children and families into the library and engaging youth with children’s book art and illustrations."[12]

Bryan was honored by Maine governor Janet Mills who proclaimed July 13, 2020 "Ashley Frederick Bryan Day" for his lifetime contributions to the state.[13][14]

Awards for particular works[edit]

For particular books he has been honored several times including multiple Coretta Scott King Awards and honors 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 for illustration, Beat the Story Drum, Pum-Pum
  • 1983, Coretta Scott King Honor for illustration, I'm Going to Sing: Black American Spirituals
  • 1986, Coretta Scott King Honor for writing and illustration, Lion and the Ostrich Chicks and Other African Folk Tales
  • 1988, Coretta Scott King Honor for illustration, What a Morning! The Christmas Story in Black Spirituals
  • 1992, Coretta Scott King Honor for illustration, All Night, All Day: A Child's First Book of African American Spirituals
  • 1998, Coretta Scott King Honor for illustration, Ashley Bryan's ABC of African American Poetry
  • 2004, Coretta Scott King Award for illustration, Beautiful Blackbird
  • 2008, Coretta Scott King Award for illustration, Let it Shine: Three Favorite Spirituals
  • 2010, Golden Kite Award for nonfiction, Ashley Bryan: Words to My Life's Song
  • 2017, Newbery Honor, Coretta Scott King Honor for writing and illustration, Freedom Over Me: Eleven Slaves, Their Lives and Dreams Brought to Life by Ashley Bryan[10]
  • 2020, Carter G. Woodson Book Award, Coretta Scott King Award for illustration, Infinite Hope: A Black Artist’s Journey from World War II to Peace[15][16]



  • Black Boy by Richard Wright (1950)
  • Fabliaux: Ribald Tales from the Old French translated by Robert Hellman and Richard O’Gorman (1965, 1966)
  • Moon, For What Do You Wait? Poems by Rabindranath Tagore (1967)
  • The Ox of the Wonderful Horns and Other African Folktales (1971)
  • Walk Together Children: Black American Spirituals Vol 1 (1974)
  • The Adventures of Aku (1976)
  • The Dancing Granny (1977)
  • I Greet the Dawn: Poems by Paul Laurence Dunbar (1978)
  • Jethro and the Jumbie by Susan Cooper (1979)
  • Jim Flying High by Mari Evans (1979)
  • I’m Going to Sing: Black American Spirituals Vol 2 (1982)
  • The Cat’s Purr (1985)
  • Beat the Story-Drum, Pum-Pum (1987)
  • Lion and the Ostrich Chicks and Other African Folk Poems (1986)
  • What a Morning: The Christmas Story in Black Spirituals by John Langstaff (1987)
  • Sh-Ko and his Eight Wicked Brothers illustrated by Fumio Yoshimura (1988)
  • Turtle Knows Your Name (1989)
  • All Night, All Day: A Child’s First Book of African-American Spirituals (1991)
  • Climbing Jacob’s Ladder by John Langstaff (1991)
  • Christmas Gif’: An Anthology of Christmas Poems, Songs and Stories Written by and About African-Americans by Charemae Rollins (1993)
  • The Story of Lightning and Thunder (1993)
  • What a Wonderful World by George David Weiss and Bob Thiele (1995)
  • The Story of the Three Kingdoms by Walter Dean Myers (1997)
  • Ashley Bryan’s African Tales, Uh Huh (1998)
  • Carol of the Brown King: Nativity Poems by Langston Hughes (1998)
  • The House with No Door: African Riddle-Poems by Brian Swann (1998)
  • Aneesa Lee and the Weaver’s Gift by Nikki Grimes (1999)
  • Jump Back, Honey: The Poems of Paul Laurence Dunbar, co-illustrators Carole Byard, Jan Spivey Gilchrist, Jerry Pinkney, and Faith Ringgold (1999)
  • The Night Has Ears: African Proverbs (1999)
  • Why Leopard Has Spots, Dan Stories from Liberia by Won-Ldy Paye and Margaret H. Lippert (1999)
  • How God Fix Jonah by Lorenz Graham (2000)
  • Salting the Ocean: 100 Poems by Young Poets by Naomi Shahab Nye (2000)
  • Ashley Bryan’s ABC of African American Poetry (2001)
  • Beautiful Blackbird (2003)
  • A Nest Full of Stars by James Berry (2004)
  • Let It Shine: Three Favorite Spirituals (2007)
  • My America by Jan Spivey Gilchrist, co-illustrator (2007)
  • All Things Bright and Beautiful by Cecil Alexander (2010)
  • Who Built the Stable? (2012)
  • Can’t Scare Me (2013)
  • Ashley Bryan’s Puppets (2014)
  • By Trolley Past Thimbleton Bridge illustrated by Marvin Bileck (2015)
  • Sail Away by Langston Hughes (2015)
  • Freedom Over Me: Eleven Slaves, Their Lives and Dreams Brought to Life (2016)
  • I Am Loved by Nikki Giovanni (2018)[7]
  • Infinite Hope: A Black Artist’s Journey from World War II to Peace (2020)[16]


  • I Know a Man ... Ashley Bryan (2016) - Richard Kane, director

Stage works[edit]

American composer Alvin Singleton composed Sing to the Sun, a commissioned work for the 1995-1996 season by a consortium of five musical festivals. The work consisted of a chamber orchestra made up of an oboe, clarinet, viola, piano and percussion,[17] children's voices and a narrator, and drew upon the collection of poems by Bryan entitled: Sing to the Sun: Poems and Pictures. Bryan himself narrated the premiere and all the following performances.[18]

On June 10, 2017 the world premiere of Alliance Theatre’s production ‘’Dancing Granny’’ took place at the Oglethorpe University's Conant Performing Arts Center in Atlanta, Georgia.[19] The musical play was adapted for the stage from Bryan's book of the same name with music composed by Jireh Breon Holder and choreography by Ameenah Kaplan.[20][21]

In 2018, Bryan collaborated with composer Aaron Robinson on an African-American requiem titled "A Tender Bridge"; a 90-minute, 13 movement work that celebrates Bryan's life and career based on his writings that uses "jazz, ragtime, Negro spirituals, Southern hymns and other musical idioms, along with a full choir, gospel choir, children’s choir, orchestra jazz ensemble and multiple narrators."[22][23]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d "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 Gold, Donna (Dec 1997 – Jan 1998). "Ashley Bryan's World". American Vision. 12 (6): 31.
  5. ^ Marcus, Leonard S. (2002). Ways of Telling: Conversations on the Art of the Picture Book. New York, NY: Dutton Children's Books. pp. 18–31. ISBN 0-525-46490-5.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k 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.
  7. ^ a b "Ashley Bryan Center || Home". Retrieved 2019-11-18.
  8. ^ "Laura Ingalls Wilder Award, Past winners". ALSC. ALA.
    "About the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award". ALSC. ALA. Retrieved 2013-03-10.
  9. ^ "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.
  10. ^ a b "Coretta Scott King Book Awards". ALA. Retrieved 2012-07-05.
  11. ^ Smith, Alice Gullen. 1989. "Will the real bibliotherapist please stand up?." Journal of Youth Services in Libraries 2, 241-249.
  12. ^ a b c d Gómez, E. (2012). "Broward County Library Celebrates Ten Years of the Ashley Bryan Art Series". Children & Libraries. 10 (1): 18–19.
  13. ^ Arnold, Willis Ryder (July 14, 2020). "Mills Declares 'Ashley Bryan Day' To Honor 97-Year-Old Artist And Author". Maine Public. Retrieved July 19, 2020.
  14. ^ Green, Alex (July 16, 2020). "Maine Declares Ashley Bryan Day". Publishers Weekly. Retrieved July 19, 2020.
  15. ^ "Carter G. Woodson Book Award and Honor Winners". National Council for the Social Studies. Retrieved June 22, 2020.
  16. ^ a b "Ashley Bryan and Daniel Minter win national youth book awards". Keyes, Bob. Portland Press Herald. January 28, 2020.
  17. ^ Gresham, Mark (18 November 1995). "Sing To The Sun" (PDF). Vibes. Atlanta: Atlanta.CreativeLoafing.Com. p. 89. Retrieved July 18, 2017.
  18. ^ Thrash Murphy, Barbara (August 14, 2014). Black Authors and Illustrators of Books for Children and Young Adults. USA: Routledge. p. 38. ISBN 978-0415762731.
  19. ^ Baldowski, Bill (June 3, 2017). "'Dancing Granny' kicking off Alliance's 2017-18 season". Northside Neighbor. Retrieved July 18, 2017.
  20. ^ News Desk, BWW (May 5, 2017). "Alliance to Premiere Beloved Children's Story, THE DANCING GRANNY". Broadway World. Retrieved July 18, 2017.
  21. ^ Watts, Gabbie (June 2, 2017). "Alliance Theatre Adapts 'The Dancing Granny' For The Stage". WABE 90.1. Retrieved July 18, 2017.
  22. ^ Keyes, Bob (August 12, 2018). "Ashley Bryan, 95, 'always honored' to have a new show". Portland Press Herald. Retrieved February 8, 2019.
  23. ^ Nestor, Argy (October 22, 2018). "A Tender Bridge". Maine Arts Ed. Retrieved February 8, 2019.
  • "Ashley Bryan". Gale Literary Databases Contemporary Authors Online. Archived from the original on August 28, 2008. Retrieved 2009-03-14. (subscription required)
  • "Bryan, Ashley". Pennsylvania State University.

External links[edit]