Bill McGuinness/Simon & Schuster
Ashley Bryan, the celebrated children’s book author and illustrator who created stories centered on African and African-American folktales, has died. I was 98.
Bryan’s website said he died Friday at his niece’s home. He noted that after his last birthday on July 13, 2021, he “continued to recite poetry from his vast repertoire, especially Shakespeare’s sonnets, to the end.”
In a career that spanned more than six decades, Bryan’s vibrantly colored collage and paper-cut illustrations graced the pages of some 50 books, folktales, and poetry collections by such acclaimed writers as Langston Hughes, Nikki Giovanni, and Walter Dean. Myers. Books he wrote and illustrated himself include infinite hope about his experiences serving in the segregated Army during World War II, Beat the drum of history: Pum-Pum, his retelling of Nigerian tales and beautiful blackbird, a story that celebrates community and individuality.
Simon and Schuster
Among the many honors Bryan received throughout his career are several Coretta Scott King Awards, the Laura Ingalls Wilder Lifetime Achievement Award, and in 2008, he was named one of the New York Public Library’s Library Lions. along with Edward Albee, Nora Ephron and Salmon Rushdie. .
Bryan grew up in the Bronx, the second of six children. He began drawing and painting as a young child, using art supplies provided by his father, who worked as a greeting card printer.
While attending the Cooper Union School of Art and Engineering in New York City, Bryan was drafted into the Army to fight in World War II and was subjected to racism by white American soldiers. He outlined all of his experiences, including what he witnessed on D-Day at Omaha Beach.
Simon and Schuster
Bryan drew inspiration from a wide variety of cultures, artistic styles, and disciplines. Growing up in the Bronx, he loved the stained glass windows of nearby St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, according to a magazine profile from his alma mater, Columbia University. He made puppets out of bones, shells, and other objects he found on the beaches near his home on one of the Cranberry Islands off the coast of Maine. He played the recorder and sang spirituals.
Both whimsical and deeply spiritual, he once said, “There are so many ways we learn about life and about ourselves. If you put art into the world, you get beauty in return.”
Among the tributes to Bryan, author Jason Reynolds wrote: “But we launched the ‘National Treasure’ so arrogantly that when you get to know one, you realize how rare they are, and you want the world to dance the jubilee in their honor. They deserved it. My God, Ashley, do you you’ve earned your rest.”