STPL REMEMBERS ASHLEY BRYAN, 1923 – 2022

Mrs. Lillie Butler, retired Children's Librarian from the Madisonville Branch Library, is our guest blogger today as she pays tribute to author and illustrator Ashley Bryan.

“At every moment I strive for connection.  If you are in the moment, you are stretching out to reach that which you recognize in others.  That’s my secret.”- Ashley Bryan

St. Tammany Parish Library and people around the world are mourning the loss of Ashley Bryan, beloved and renowned artist, author, storyteller, and illustrator. Excerpts to follow were taken from a post by Dustin Wlodkowski, a Maine Bureau reporter, published February 7, 2022, Remembering “National Treasure” Ashley Bryan, Prolific Author and Illustrator., opens a new window

Bryan’s work is remembered for highlighting the African American experience and cultural heritage. Ashley Bryan made his home on Maine’s Little Cranberry Island near Bar Harbor during the late 1980’s. A school on the island has since been named for him. Maine Governor, Janet Mills proclaimed July 13, 2020 as Ashley Frederick Bryan Day in Maine. She noted in the proclamation that he, “enriched the lives of island residents, visitors, school children in Maine and people around the world with over 50 books including Beautiful Blackbird and Freedom Over Me…”

“He has illuminated the African American experience and cultural heritage for which he has been recognized by universities and institutions internationally.” Another line in the proclamation states that “Mr. Bryan has made it his life’s work to celebrate the unique spirit of every individual, offering them the gift of his love and friendship and in sharing his understanding.”

Another line in the proclamation states that “Mr. Bryan has made it his life’s work to celebrate the unique spirit of every individual, offering them the gift of his love and friendship and in sharing his understanding.”

 Ashley Bryan received numerous awards for his books and illustrations, too many to list here, but to include: several ALA Notable Children’s Books Awards, several Coretta Scott King Honor Books Awards, Boston Globe/Horn Book Award, John Newbery Medal, and New York Public Library Best Book for Kids Award.

The life experiences of others can be a valuable source of inspiration and motivation.  I have found this to be true from my personal experiences.  In 2011, I attended the Fay B. Kaigler Children’s Book Festival at the University of Southern Mississippi.  Among other attendees were Tanya DiMaggio, STPL Assistant Director of Support Services who was then STPL Children’s Services Coordinator, and Jennifer Rifino, STPL Teens Services Coordinator.  We had the honor and pleasure of meeting Ashley Bryan.

 He was the 1994 recipient of the USM Medallion which is awarded annually to selected authors and illustrators for their distinguished service in the field of Children’s literature. He returned to the festival as a speaker in 2011. Ashley Bryan was phenomenal in his presentation.  He kept the audience involved and participating, as he did fingers snapping, feet tapping and voice articulating, as he did his storytelling and the reading of some of his books.

After his presentation that left me spellbound, I had the honor of speaking with him and I told him that I dream of being a great storyteller.  He said to me, “Follow your dream.”  I shall never forget those words.

Years later, I read a copy of his book, Freedom Over Me: Eleven Slaves, Their Lives and Dreams Brought to LifeI was so inspired by the stories of these eleven slaves and their dreams and how well Ashley Bryan had put together these stories using original slave auction and plantation estate documents that I purchased a copy of the book.

 Every year in February my church, Historic St. James Baptist Church, presents a program to commemorate Black History Month.  This program is always FREE and open to the public. I wrote the prose from the book into lines and developed a skit that was approved by my pastor, Rev. George T. Burris to honor Ashley Bryan.  Members of the congregation directed by yours truly did a stellar performance that brought tears to my eyes and chills up my spine.

“In the end, it’s not the years in your life that count.  It’s the life in your years.”- Abraham Lincoln

Rest in Peace, Ashley Bryan.  You are gone, but will never be forgotten by the many lives you touched and inspired, and for the joy you brought and will continue to bring into the lives of readers of your wonderful books.  

Note:   Copies of Ashley Bryan books, opens a new window are available for checkout at STPL branches, including his biography for young readers, Infinite Hope.

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