On Sunday morning, June 25, R. Gregory Christie, Coretta Scott King Honor illustrator of Freedom in Congo Square, by Carole Boston Weatherford, described the people on the dais of the Coretta Scott King Awards as a "multigenerational dream team," and that's exactly what it was. Luminaries ranged from Nicola Yoon, winner of the CSK-John Steptoe New Talent Award for The Sun Is Also a Star, and Jason Reynolds, 2015 new-talent winner and current CSK author honoree for As Brave as You(also the winner of the 2016 Kirkus Prize for Young Readers' Literature), to Ashley Bryan, honored as both author and illustrator for Freedom Over Me (also a 2016 Kirkus Prize finalist). Bryan may be nearly 94, but his call-and-response performance of Langston Hughes' "My People" was as strong and energetic as ever.
This energy and conviction ran throughout the ceremony, as it always does. Yoon spoke of the necessity for stories that demonstrate that people of color "are more than a struggle"; Christie, of his drive to "give people of color dignity"; Reynolds, of his determination to demonstrate that "all the slivers of who we are are important." Their sense of mission is a conscious legacy of the work of scholar Rudine Sims Bishop, winner of the CSK-Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime Achievement, whose concept of books as mirrors and windows has grounded the diversity discussion and become part of our vernacular.
Jerry Pinkney, illustrator honoree for In Plain Sight, written by Richard Jackson, told the audience with urgency, "This is the time we all go to work," a call to action echoed by Rep. John Lewis, D-Georgia, author award winner with co-author Andrew Aydin and illustrator Nate Powell for March: Book Three, who encouraged the audience to make and share books so "people can dream dreams, can fly, can sail, can create a world community at peace with ourselves." Javaka Steptoe, a one-time winner of the new-talent award named for his groundbreaking father, accepted the illustrator award 20 years later for Radiant Child, his picture-book biography of artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, telling the audience, "We can't be the society that stands on the side...we have to jump in."
The CSK awards are always a celebration of legacy and mission, but this year the sense of both was particularly deep and poignant. The ceremony began with remembrances of CSK community members lost in the previous year: librarian Dorothy Evans, author Patricia McKissack, and teacher Robin Smith. Let us honor the legacy; let us jump in; let us go to work; let us make Rep. Lewis' "good trouble—necessary trouble." Vicky Smith is the children's & teen editor. The photo above of Jason Reynolds is by Kia Chenelle.