Ashley Bryan, Celebrated Author and Illustrator, Dies at age 98

The children's publishing world remembers a giant in the industry. Ashley Bryan's legacy includes more than 70 books and a generation of creators he inspired with his work and kindness.

Children's publishing has lost a legend. Ashley Bryan died on Feb. 4 at the age of 98.

During a career that spanned nearly eight decades, Bryan was the author and illustrator of more than 70 books, including: Freedom Over MeSail Away, Beautiful Blackbird; Beat the Story-Drum, Pum Pum; Let It Shine; What a Wonderful World, and his memoir Infinite Hope: A Black Artist’s Journey from World War II to Peace.

His many accolades include a 2017 Newbery Honor for Freedom Over Me, the Coretta Scott King—Virginia Hamilton Lifetime Achievement Award, the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award, and several Coretta Scott King Awards. For Jason Reynolds, though,  something was missing.

Reynolds wasn't the only one who took to social media following the news of Bryan's death.

"Another #BeautifulBlackbird flown home," Jacqueline Woodson tweeted.

Nikki Grimes posted a photo of her and Bryan and wrote that she wasn't ready to say goodbye. Later in that thread, she added, "Ashley Bryan was love walking," and "He was kindness."

SLJ's editor in chief Kathy Ishizuka shared her encounter with Bryan.

"I walked past him at a conference," Ishizuka tweeted. "I am shy, but forced myself to turn 'round, we both extended hands and I will always remember that lovely exchange. We honor Ashley Bryan. Always turn around."

Ashley Bryan. Photo credit: Bill McGuinness

On the Ashley Bryan Center website, the homepage reads: "Our beloved Ashley died peacefully on February 4, 2022, at the home of his niece Vanessa. He had turned 98 on July 13, 2021, and continued to recite poetry from his vast repertoire especially Shakespeare’s sonnetsup to the very end.

"For any of you who have attended a program by Ashley, the opening call and response of Langston Hughes's 'My People' remains indelibly etched in your memory. This was his way of unifying the audience of telling each person to confirm a love of who they are. Ashley was passionate about making poetry come alive and educating young and old of every ethnic background about the legacy of African and African American culture. Visitors from all over the world have made the pilgrimage to his magical home on Little Cranberry Island/Islesford off the coast of Maine. They were rewarded with gummy bears and hugs; everyone was 'family.'"

A memorial service will be held in Islesford, ME, on July 13, 2022, which would have been his 99th birthday. Friends and fans are invited to share a note or memory on the Ashley Bryan Center website.

Read the full obituary from Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing below.

 

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Kara Yorio

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

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