CSK: 50 Years Strong

Claudette S. McLinn

On behalf of the Coretta Scott King Book Awards Committee, welcome to The Horn Book’s special issue commemorating the Coretta Scott King (CSK) Book Awards’ fiftieth anniversary. I was delighted to learn that The Horn Book would feature a special commemorative issue devoted to this historic golden anniversary, and I am honored to write this letter welcoming readers to the issue.

The CSK has become one of the most distinguished honors in children’s literature. But what a groundbreaking act its founding was in 1969! The tenacious road to CSK: 50 Years Strong began with two school librarians, Glyndon Flynt Greer and Mabel McKissick, discussing the omission of African American writers and illustrators from the major children’s literary awards; John Carroll, of Carroll Publishing, then joined the conversation, urging them to start their own award.

It was by no means easy. There were many years of struggle. Yet they persevered. Through the years, it was the continued leadership of the founders, particularly Mrs. Greer, and various dedicated librarians and library workers from diverse backgrounds who endured and pushed through the frustrations and stumbling blocks that were put in their way. Many African American authors and illustrators would not have been recognized had it not been for these trailblazing founders and supporters of the award.

The award is named after Coretta Scott King, wife of civil rights icon Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. In my 2006 conversation with the late Effie Lee Morris, former chair of the CSK Task Force (now the CSK Book Awards Committee), she stated that Glyndon Greer saw Coretta Scott King as someone to be remembered beyond her husband’s shadow. It was Mrs. Greer’s dream that she, Mrs. King, have this award named in her honor.

Since their inception in 1969, the CSK Book Awards have been “given annually 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.” The awards have increased the prominence of children’s literature about the Black experience; raised up the work of their winning African American authors and illustrators; and served as a guide to excellent children’s literature for educators, librarians and library workers, parents, caregivers, and students.

As part of the fiftieth-anniversary celebration, a traveling art exhibition, “Our Voice: Celebrating the Coretta Scott King Illustrator Awards,” a partnership between the Coretta Scott King Book Awards Committee and the National Center for Children’s Illustrated Literature (NCCIL) in Abilene, Texas, was launched. The NCCIL-curated exhibition features the largest collection of CSK Award–winning illustrations, with over one hundred works on display presented in chronological order, starting with Ray Charles, whose illustrator, George Ford, was the first CSK Illustrator Award winner. This art exhibition will travel within the United States, and a partial exhibition will travel to the Bologna Children’s Book Fair in Bologna, Italy.

Currently, the Coretta Scott King Book Awards Committee is planning its fiftieth-anniversary gala celebration in Washington, DC, at the Library of Congress on June 21, 2019, as well as the annual CSK Book Awards Breakfast on June 23, 2019.

The Coretta Scott King Book Awards have indeed brought increased prominence to children’s literature about the Black experience and uplifted the work of their winning African American authors and illustrators. This is an exciting time to celebrate the achievements and accomplishments of the CSK Book Awards — keeping in mind, we have much more work to do. We hope that you will enjoy this special issue and experience the activities being held locally, nationally, and internationally throughout 2019 to celebrate CSK at 50.

Dr. Claudette S. McLinn, Chair
Coretta Scott King Book Awards Committee
For more information about the Coretta Scott King Book Awards Committee of the American Library Association’s Ethnic and Multicultural Information Exchange Round Table (EMIERT) and about the CSK Book Awards fiftieth-anniversary activities, visit ala.org/rt/emiert/cskbookawards/csk50. Find more information about ordering copies of the May/June 2019 Horn Book Magazine: Special Issue: CSK Book Awards at 50.
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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