Ceremony Celebrates 50th Anniversary of Coretta Scott King Book Awards

Authors Kwame Alexander and Jacqueline Woodson were among those who helped celebrate the golden anniversary of the awards.

In a moving night of gratitude for those who came before and celebration of current authors and illustrators, some of the biggest names in children’s literature gathered at the Library of Congress on Friday night to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Coretta Scott King (CSK) Book Awards

Author and illustrator Kadir Nelson created this portrait of Coretta Scott King for the cover of a commemorative edition of The Horn Book.

The CSK Book Awards are given to “outstanding African American authors and illustrators of books for children and young adults that demonstrate an appreciation of African American culture and universal human values.” 

In a room filled with past winners, there were speeches from Librarian of Congress Dr. Carla Hayden and others, and there was celebration through song, dance, and spoken word.

Kwame Alexander recited an original work he created for the event. In it, Alexander compared the annual CSK awards breakfast to going to church. And if the CSK breakfast ceremony is “First Baptist ALA,” he said, then the award-winning books are the hymns, and the authors are “the choir making a joyful noise.”

Alexander continued the overriding theme of the night, paying tribute to predecessors.

“This moment here, this moment tonight is our precious memory of those no longer here who paved the stony road so that Christopher and Jackie and Vanessa and Chris and Renée and Claire and Kadir, and the rest of us even had a voice to lift,” he said. “Tonight is about the precious memories….This moment, this moment is for those who showed us through their writing and painting and working and living that though we may face defeat, we must never be defeated. ”

Kwame Alexander (left) recites an original piece written for the ceremony.

When he was finished, and the crowd quieted its applause, he introduced Jacqueline Woodson.

“To be in this room, in this moment in time, with all of you is to be in the presence of so much that our ancestors laid the groundwork for,” said Woodson, the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature. “How amazing is this that 50 years later, we are holding this space at the Library of Congress, overseen by the brilliant and lovely Dr. Carla Hayden? Fifty-one years ago, this was unimaginable, but we imagined it anyway. Because that’s what we have always done. We have always and continue to imagine ourselves beyond the current narrative. Yes, we have always and continue to walk and work toward a ‘one day.’ Tonight is one of our many ‘one days.’”

Jewell Booker sang.
Dancers performed.



While recently watching a documentary about Toni Morrison, Woodson said she began to think about legacy—“that which we can only imagine and at the hardest moments in our lives seems unimaginable, shifting into believing, shifting into doing, shifting into the thing we couldn’t imagine the world being without. Like the many books the CSK awards have helped launch into the world. Like We Need Diverse Books. Like Blackish and the Obamas and Kendrick’s Lamar’s DNA, Aaron McGruder and Randy Barnes’ The Boondocks and Billy Porter and the Nae Nae and the Dougie and the immortal Electric Slide. And like every single black and brown person who has ever penned, illustrated, or done the audio of a book for young people...We are royalty. We are magic. We are brilliant. We are beautiful.

“In the words of Dr Bernice Johnson Reagon, the power of the universe knows our names, gave us a song to sing and sent us on our way. We raise our voice for justice because we believe.”

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Kara Yorio

Kara Yorio (kyorio@mediasourceinc.com, @karayorio) is news editor at School Library Journal.

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