2023 CSK–Virginia Hamilton Award Acceptance by Claudette S. McLinn

Good Sunday morning! It is so good to be together with family, friends, and colleagues in Chicago. I am appreciative and honored to stand before you to respectfully accept the 2023 Coretta Scott King–Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime Achievement as Practitioner. Past winners of this distinguished award include Dorothy L. Guthrie, Dr. Pauletta Brown Bracy, Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop, Deborah D. Taylor, Demetria Tucker, and the beloved Dr. Henrietta M. Smith.

Special thanks to the family of Virginia Hamilton and Arnold Adoff. Thank you to the 2023 Coretta Scott King–Virginia Hamilton Award Jury Chair Carolyn L. Garnes, and members Dr. Sujin B.E. Huggins, Chrystal Carr Jeter, Emma K. McNamara, and Dr. Marguerite Worth Penick. Thank you to Coretta Scott King Book Award Round Table Executive Board Chair Dr. Brenda Pruitt-Annisette; Office for Diversity, Literacy and Outreach Services Director Kevin Strowder; the ODLOS staff; and the Coretta Scott King Book Awards Community. Thank you to the book creators for your inspiring stories about the African American experience. Thank you to the board of directors and supporters of the Center for the Study of Multicultural Children’s Literature (CSMCL). Thank you to my family and friends, and most of all, thank you to my incredible husband, Michael McLinn, who is my rock.

McLinn's family in 1950.
Photo courtesy of Claudette S. McLinn.

I was born in Detroit to parents who were born in Tennessee and Mississippi; they were part of the Great Migration generation that moved up North to escape the Jim Crow South for more opportunities. Although both sets of my grandparents owned their land and were farmers, their children felt that there were more opportunities up North. I am the oldest of three children. When I was nine years old, my father’s job sent him to Los Angeles, California. We moved there, and I attended public schools. After twelve glorious years, my father’s job returned to Detroit, and our family moved back.

This was the turning point in my life. I earned a bachelor of science degree in education from Wayne State University and a teaching credential from the state of Michigan. I was immediately hired as a classroom teacher. At twenty-two years old, this was my lifelong goal. Everything was great. Until I discovered that teaching in the classroom was not my forte. I had a hidden secret, had been faking it all my life, and was in denial about it because I wanted to be “normal.” I have a hearing impairment — nerve deafness in my right ear — which made it difficult to hear my students during class discussions. At that time, doctors stated that hearing aids would not help me. I asked myself, What do I do now?

Well, I had always wanted to be a librarian. So I contacted the school librarian (who became a great friend) and asked her about taking a course in library science. Following her recommendation, I drove to Wayne State University’s library science department. There, I inquired about course work and was invited to one of the professors’ offices to discuss. After two hours, the professor introduced me to the dean, and both asked me to apply for a fellowship in library science. I did apply, and the rest is history! Unbeknownst to me, the professor, Genevieve M. Casey, was the former State Librarian of Michigan, who became one of my first mentors in the profession.

After earning a master of science degree in library science, I immediately left snowy Detroit and moved back to Los Angeles. I was twenty-four years old and landed my dream job as a school librarian with the Los Angeles Unified School District. I worked ten years in that position and realized that if I wanted to keep my options open, then I needed to pursue a master of science degree in administration and acquire an administrative credential to work in professional development and supervision in library media services. I enrolled and completed a second master’s degree at Pepperdine University. As a school librarian, I had an impact on the school level. I wanted to make a difference in young people’s lives beyond the school-site level. Once I had these credentials, I was hired to work in library media services as a district supervising librarian.

In my capacity in that position, I was responsible for — among many things — developing, coordinating, and assessing instructional programs, particularly in the areas of libraries, literacy, and learning technology, which meant that I was able to draw upon my extensive knowledge of African American literature and multicultural services for children to make those selections available to all the children and youth. In fact, I was hired primarily because of my expertise in African American and multicultural literature for children to ensure the review, selection, and inclusion thereof, and I remained the only African American to serve as an administrator in library media services for over a decade. Looking back on this experience as being the only, I remember I knew that this was where I was supposed to be.

On my first day on the job, I was handed a book and asked to read it, tell if the book would be appropriate for the school libraries, and give my rationale. So that evening, I did my homework and research to provide the director with an answer the next day. The book was Birthday, by John Steptoe. This was significant because African American–authored books were not being considered for the district reading list, and I was able to offer an informed opinion.

Bright Lights Children's Bookstore in 2010.
Photo courtesy of Claudette S. McLinn.

My passion went beyond the professional mandate to ensure that children and youth saw themselves in books. I opened a bookstore in 1992 in Inglewood, California, with my husband, in a then–predominantly African American neighborhood. Bright Lights Children’s Bookstore stood as one of the only Black-owned children’s bookstores west of the Mississippi. Although it only opened on Saturday, we made sure to keep it well-stocked with books representing the breadth of award-winning African American literature, especially Coretta Scott King Award books. Customers were surprised to see the number of beautiful books with characters who looked like them. We hosted events, author visits, and book signings by Tom Feelings, Eloise Greenfield, Nikki Grimes, Walter Dean Myers, Mildred Pitts Walter, Ruby Bridges, Octavia E. Butler, and many more. The bookstore served as a beautiful space where parents and children could go to select titles that reflected their beauty and their stories and take the books home to build their personal collections.

Upon closing in 2011, the bookstore became the site for the CSMCL, which continues and extends its mandate to collect, review, and recommend African American and multicultural books of exceptional quality, as well as represent other cultures in the greater Los Angeles County community and beyond. Over the years of its existence, CSMCL has featured an annual list of Best Multicultural Children’s Books, published in December, which is used by teachers, library workers, professors, students, parents, and caregivers. CSMCL annually provides Día book grants with an African American focus in partnership with ALA/ALSC, and with Día founder Pat Mora.

With Dr. Carla Hayden at the CSK Awards Fiftieth Anniversary gala.
Photo courtesy of the American Library Association.

Along the way, I pursued a doctorate degree in organizational leadership at Pepperdine University, for which I studied the leadership styles of the then–two African American women presidents so far of the American Library Association: Clara Stanton Jones and Dr. Carla Hayden. I became involved with the American Library Association and Coretta Scott King Book Awards Committee, and now Round Table, in various volunteer leadership positions, including chairing the memorable Coretta Scott King Awards Fiftieth Anniversary celebration, working with a fabulous committee. This position gave me opportunities to travel and represent CSK at the openings of the art exhibition titled “Our Voice: Celebrating the Coretta Scott King Illustrator Awards.” The exhibit was organized by the National Center for Children’s Illustrated Literature in Abilene, Texas, and it traveled to museums and venues including the Los Angeles Public Library, the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, and the Bologna Children’s Book Fair in Italy.

I would be remiss if I did not mention the dedicated library professionals who served as mentors when I needed guidance and encouragement, especially Effie Lee Morris, Dr. Henrietta M. Smith, and Geraldine Thigpen, who was my middle-school librarian. They encouraged me to mentor the next generation of librarians, and I am doing just that.

Left to right: Dr. Henrietta M. Smith, Effie Lee Morris, and Dr. Claudette S. McLinn.
Photo courtesy of Claudette S. McLinn.

Thank you Virginia Hamilton, for your legacy and this award honor. The award pays tribute to the quality and magnitude of Virginia Hamilton’s exemplary contributions through her literature and advocacy for children and youth, especially in her focus on African American life, history, and consciousness. Virginia’s husband, Arnold Adoff, was instrumental in establishing this award.

Pursuing my passion as a literary activist in the library field has been life-changing. It is an immense honor to be recognized for my work by this jury and by the Coretta Scott King Book Awards Community.

Claudette S. McLinn is the winner of the 2023 Coretta Scott King–Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime Achievement. Her acceptance speech was delivered at the annual conference of the American Library Association in Chicago on June 25, 2023. From the July/August 2023 issue of The Horn Book Magazine: Special Issue: ALA Awards. For more speeches, profiles, and articles, click the tag ALA 2023.

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Claudette S. McLinn

Dr. Claudette S. McLinn is the winner of the 2023 Coretta Scott King–Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime Achievement as Practitioner.

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