Authors Emeritus, a compilation of short biographies of deceased children’s literature creators, is a Bookology Children’s Literature resource. When a Bookstorm™ includes books by authors and illustrators in the index we like to highlight those biographies. This month: Tom Feelings (The Middle Passage) and Virginia Hamilton (Many Thousand Gone).
Tom Feelings, born on May 19, 1933, was a native of Brooklyn, NY. He attended the School of Visual Arts for two years before joining the Air Force, working as a staff artist. He then worked as a freelance artist, published in Look magazine, traveled to Ghana to work for the African Review, and returned to the U.S. in 1966 to concentrate on illustrating books with African and African-American themes.
He created the comic strip “Tommy Traveler in the World of Negro History” in 1958 for New York Age, a newspaper based in Harlem. He collaborated with talented black writers such as Julius Lester, Eloise Greenfield, Nikki Grimes, and Maya Angelou.
In his life and work he tried to portray the reality of life for African Americans while depicting the beauty and warmth of black culture. Feelings won numerous awards for his work. Moja Means One, a Swahili counting book, and Jambo Means Hello, a Swahili alphabet book, were chosen as Caldecott Honor Books in 1972 and 1974. Something On My Mind won the Coretta Scott King Award in 1978. The Middle Passage was awarded the Coretta Scott King Award for Illustrators and the Jane Addams Children’s Book Award. Feelings referred to himself as a storyteller in picture form.
Mr. Feelings died August 25, 2003 at the age of 70.
Her 1974 novel M.C. Higgins the Great won the Newbery Medal, making Virginia the first African American author ever to receive this honor. In addition, the book won the National Book Award, Boston Globe–Horn Book Award, Lewis Carroll Shelf Award, the Peace Prize of Germany, New York Times Outstanding Children’s Book of the Year and Hans Christian Andersen Honor Book, among others. This marked the first time a book had won the grand slam of Newbery Medal, National Book Award, and Boston Globe–Horn Book Award.
In 1992 she was awarded the Hans Christian Andersen Award for Writing, the highest international recognition bestowed on an author or illustrator of children’s literature. At the time she was only the fourth American to win the award, which has been presented every other year since 1956.
In addition to the awards for M.C. Higgins the Great, her work has won Newbery Honors, Coretta Scott King awards and honors, an Edgar Allen Poe award, and has been on multiple “best of the year” lists.
Hamilton said of her work:
“I see my books and the language I use in them as empowering me to give utterance to the dreams, the wishes, of African Americans. I see the imaginative use of language and ideas as a way to illuminate the human condition. All of my work, as a novelist, a biographer, creator and compiler of stories, has been to portray the essence of a people who are a parallel-culture society in America. I’ve attempted to mark the history and traditions of African Americans, a parallel culture people, through my writing, while bringing readers strong stories and memorable characters living nearly the best they know how. I want readers, both adults and children, to care about who the characters are. I want readers to feel, to understand, and to empathize. I want the books to make a world in which the characters are real.”
She died on Feb. 19, 2002