"If you don't hear a poem spoken, it's like never hearing a song sung."
Mr. Bryan has traveled far since his own beginnings in 1923. A child of immigrants from the West Indies island of Antigua, he and his five siblings grew up in a tough neighborhood in the Bronx, New York. After high school, he attended Cooper Union, where, unlike the New York art schools he applied to, scholarships were awarded for talent and not determined by race. A tour of duty in World War II interrupted his studies, but he went on to earn a degree in philosophy from Columbia University and win a Fulbright Scholarship for art studies in Europe. He taught at Queens College, Lafayette College and Dartmouth before leaving academic life to concentrate full time on his own work.
Mr. Ashley Bryan's children's book career began in the 1960's, when Jean Karl, an editor at Atheneum heard about his colorful, hand stitched books and went to his studio to see them for herself. Immediately impressed, she signed him for their first project together. In the decades since, Mr. Bryan has illustrated more than thirty other titles, many of them with texts he also wrote, retold, or selected. His books have been richly acclaimed and highly honored. Beat the Story Drum, Pum-Pum won the Coretta Scott King Award, and four more of his titles have been selected Coretta Scott King Honor Books: All Night, All Day: A Children's s First Book of African American Spirituals; Ashley Bryan's ABC of African American Poetry; Lion and the Ostrich Chicks and Other African Folk Poems; and What a Morning! The Christmas Story in Black Spirituals.
Although Ashley Bryan says that he uses "art as a way of speaking," he also has a keen ear for the music of the spoken word and a deep respect for its power to enrich lives. "Bryan," School Library Journal wrote in its starred review of Turtle Knows Your Name, "shows his love of word patterns, sounds, and repetition in his retelling of this West Indian folktale." His books, as Kirkus observed in its pointered review of The Story of Lightning and Thunder, are meant "to be read aloud, with bits of rhyme and unexpected wordplay." In What a Wonderful World, Mr. Bryan took a tune made popular by Louis Armstrong and created a picture book that is, as Booklist noted, "a song of joy from the lyricists who wrote it, the man who sang it , and the artist who envisioned it."
A lifelong dedication to introducing African stories to American children has resulted in many of his best loved books, fourteen of which are collected in a stunning anthology, Ashley Bryan's African Tales, Uh-Huh. Mr. Bryan's equally long held love for Langston Hughes inspired another splendid gathering, Carol of The Brown King: Nativity Poems by Langston Hughes.
Ashley Bryan now lives full time in Maine, on a small island he started visiting back in the late forties. A sought after speaker, he is often called away from home, but he always looks forward to returning to a house full of toys, art, and ongoing book projects that his fans eagerly await.
Write Mr. Bryan: Ashley Bryan, Islesford, Maine 04646