Black History : Literacy

The History of Black Young Adult Literature

A couple of years ago, I crowd-sourced a history of IPOC, LGBTQIAP+ people in YA and those with disabilities. Every now and then, I open it back up, but to protect it I don’t keep it open. It is however, always freely available and I’m more that willing to make edits.

Here today, I’ve edited that list to curate the history of Black people in young adult literature in the US. It’s YALSA, not ALSC. Yet, it’s not purely Black people and I don’t know that it can or should be. Many of the critical writings, movements and organizations have been coalitions that cross borders. Isn’t that where we should be heading? Yet, we’re still in a time and place that needs to count firsts, Tweet our discomforts, wear our T-shirt messages and march in the streets. But right now, let’s glimmer in the history.

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Charlemae Hill Rollins

1941 Rollins, Charlemae Hill Rollins. We Build Together: A Reader’s Guide to Negro Life and Literature for Elementary and High School Use. National Council of Teachers of English, Chicago.

1958 Graham, Lorenz. South Town. Follett Publishing Co.: Graham chronicles the life of an African American youth as he journeys from adolescence to adulthood and experiences racism in the South and North starting in the 1950s. Graham’s sensitive portrayal of his characters, showing how they led everyday lives, made him a pioneer in his field and earned him the title, “Dean of African American Literature.” source

1965 Council on Interracial Books for Children (CIBC) formed with the objective “to promote a literature for children that better reflects the realities of a multicultural society.”

1968 Hamilton, Virginia. House of Dies Drear, Macmillan.1968 Edgar Allen Poe Award; New York Times Best Books for Children and Young Adults 1968.

1968 Dodds, Barbara. Negro Literature for High School Students. National Council of Teachers of English.

1968 Jackson, Jesse C. Tessie, Harper & Row.

1968 Lattany, Kristin Hunter. Soul Brothers and Sister Lou, Avon Books. Lewis Carroll Screen Shot 2019-02-07 at 3.29.05 PMShelf Award 1971: A fourteen-year-old girl tries to reconcile her dreams and hopes for the future with the harsh and often unpleasant realities of life in the African American section of town.

1969 Council on Interracial Books for Children (CIBC) established an annual writing contest to find new authors of color. Winners of this contest include authors Sharon Bell Mathis, Mildred Taylor, and Walter Dean Myers.   

1973 Childress, Alice.  A Hero Ain’t Nothing But A Sandwich, Avon Books All Benjie wants is for someone to believe in him, for someone to believe that he’s more than a thirteen-year-old junkie. Told from the perspectives of the people in his life-including his mother, stepfather, teachers, drug dealer, and best friend-this powerful story will draw you into Benjie’s troubled world and force you to confront the uncertainty of his future. Made into an award winning movie with Paul Winfield and Cicely Tyson.1973 ALA Notable Books for Children and Young Adults; 1974 Coretta Scott King Honor Book; 1974 Jane Addams Honor Book; 1975 Lewis Carroll Shelf Award; 1973 School Library Journal Best Books for Children and Young Adults

1974 Mathis, Sharon Bell. Listen for the Fig Tree, Puffin Books.


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Glenn Thompson

1974 National Council for the Social Studies established the Carter G. Woodson Book Award for the most distinguished social science books appropriate for young readers that depict ethnicity in the United States.


1974 Glenn Thompson, one of the first black publishers in Britain, becomes one of the founders of the Writers and Readers Publishing Cooperative in London.

1975 Baker, Augusta. (1975, February 1). The Changing Image of the Black in Children’s Literature. The Horn Book.  

1976 Taylor, Mildred. Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry, Bantam Books. 1976 ALA Notable Books for Children and Young Adults; 1977 Coretta Scott King Honor Book; 1977 Jane Addams Honor Book; 1977 John Newbery Medal Award; 1976 NY Times Best Books for Children and Young Adults.

1976 Guy, Rosa. Ruby. Viking Press. Cited as the first YA lesbian novel; first YA to center Screen Shot 2019-02-07 at 3.31.06 PMon LGBT+ teen of color.

1979 Myers, Walter Dean. The Young Landlords,Viking. In 1980 becomes first YA winner of the Coretta Scott King Author Awards (established 1969)

1982 Sims, Rudine. Shadow and Substance Afro-American Experience in Contemporary Children’s Fiction. National Council of Teachers of English.

1984 The inaugural Virginia Hamilton Conference is held in Kent, Ohio at Kent State University.  

1985 Cooperative Children’s Book Center (CCBC) began documenting the books that were written by and/or illustrated about African Americans.  

1985 Kincaid, Jamaica. Annie John, Farrar, Strauss, Giroux.

1986 Walter Dean Myers wrote an op-ed in The New York Times about diversity in youth literature publishing – I Actually Thought We Would Revolutionize the Industry

1987 Just Us Books begins.

1989 African American Read-In (AARI) was established by the Black Caucus of the National Council of Teachers of English by Dr. Jerrie Cobb Scott.  

Screen Shot 2019-02-07 at 3.30.35 PM1990 Bishop, Rudine Sims. “Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding glass doors.” Perspectives:  Choosing and Using Books for the Classroom, 6(3), ix-xi.                            

1992 Myers, Walter Dean. Somewhere in the Darkness, Scholastic. 1992 ALA Notable Books for Children and Young Adults; 1992 Boston Globe-Horn Book Honor List; 1993 CSK Honor Book; 1992 SLJ Best Books for Children and Young Adults. 

1994 Walter Dean Myers receives the Margaret A. Edwards Award.

1999 Myers, Walter Dean. Monster, HarperCollins. Winner of the first Printz Award.

2001 Taylor, Mildred. The Land. Dial. 2002 Scott O’Dell Award, 2002 Coretta Scott King Award, 2002 Los Angeles Times Book Prize.  

2003 Johnson, Angela. The First Part Last, Simon and Schuster. 2004 Printz Award Winner; 2004 CSK Author Award Winner.

2005 Nelson, Marilyn and Phillip Lardy. A Wreath for Emmett Till, HMH Books. 2006 Printz Honor.

2006 Jacqueline Woodson receives YALSA’s Edwards Award for her body of work.

2007 Myers, Walter Dean.  What They Found: Love on 145th Street.  Random House. 2008 finalist for Los Angeles Times Book Prize.

2007 The Brown Bookshelf launches.

2009 Burd, Nick. Vast Fields of Ordinary, Dial Books. First YA book to win Stonewall’s newly created award for Children’s and Young Adult Literature.

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Jacqueline Woodson

2010 Neri, Greg. Yummy. 2011 CSK Author Honor, 2010 Cybil Award-Best Graphic Novel; 2011 Eisner Award Finalist; 2011 Notable book for a Global Society; 2011 Glyph Award finalist-Story of the Year.

2013 Myers, Christopher. (2013, August 6). Young dreamers. The Horn Book.

2014 Myers, Christopher. (2014, March 15). The apartheid of children’s literature. New York Times.

2014 Myers, Walter Dean. (2014, March 15). Where are the people of color in children’s books? New York Times.

2014 School Library Journal published a Diversity Issue in May which examined diversity in representation in youth literature, publishing perspective, guidance for librarians and teachers, newly published titles, and diversity in programming.  

2014 #WeNeedDiverseBooks develops into a nonprofit organization that advocates for diversity in publishing.

2014 Woodson, Jacqueline. Brown Girl Dreaming. Nancy Paulsen Books. 2015 Newbery Honor Medal; 2014 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature; NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work for Young Adults; 2015 Coretta Scott King Award; 2015 finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize.

Screen Shot 2019-02-07 at 3.56.56 PM2014 Barry Goldblatt established an annual scholarship in honor of critically acclaimed poet and author Angela Johnson at the Vermont College of Fine Arts to support minority students in the children’s and young adult literature field.  

2015 Sharon Draper receives the Margaret A. Edwards Award honoring her body of work.

2015 Reynolds, Jason and Brendan Kiely. All American Boys. Atheneum. 2016 ALA Coretta Scott King Author Honor Book; 2016 Amazing Audiobooks for YA; 2016 Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award (NCTE/ALAN); 2106 Bank Street Best Books of the Year – with Outstanding Merit; 2016 CBC/NCSS Notable Social Studies Trade Book; 2016 CCBC Choices (Cooperative Children’s Book Council); 2016 Winner of the first Walter Award.

2015 Nelson, Marilyn.  My Seneca Village. 2016 Los Angeles Times Book Prize; Claudia Lewis Poetry Award; Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Honor Award. 

2015 Lee & Low Books established the Diversity in Publishing Internship to give diverse candidates an opportunity to work in the industry.

2015 Kweli Journal holds its first “Color of Children’s Literature” conference in New York City.

2015 Jacqueline Woodson named Young People’s Poet Laureate.

2016 We Need Diverse Books announces the Walter Dean Myers Award, an award to honor the memory of Walter Dean Myers and his literary heritage, as well as celebrate diversity in teen literature.

2016 Lewis, John and Andrew Aydin, illustrated by Nate Powell. March: Book Three, Top Shelf Productions. 2017 YALSA Nonfiction Award. 2016 National Book Award Winner for Young People’s Literature; 2017 Printz Award Winner; 2017 Coretta Scott King Author Award Winner; 2017 Sibert Medal Winner; 2017 YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction Winner; 2017 Walter Award Winner; Los Angeles Times Book Prize finalist.

2016 Christopher Myers and Random House Children’s Books announces a new imprint, Make Me A World.

2016 Reynolds, Jason. Ghost, Atheneum. 2017 Charlotte Huck Award. National Book

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Ngozi Ukazu

Award Finalist for Young People’s Literature.

2016 Candlewick Press postpones release of When We Was Fierce by e.E. Charleton-Trujillo “for further review of the text”.

2017 Thomas, Angie. The Hate U Give, Balzer + Bray. 8 starred reviews. 2017 Kirkus Prize finalist. 2017 National Book Award longlist. 2017 Boston Globe-Horn Book Award. #1 NYT bestseller, 2018 Printz Honor book. The films rights to The Hate U Give were picked up by Fox 2000, Temple Hill and State Street in a competitive situation in 2016.

2017 Zoboi, Ibi. American Street, Balzer + Bray. 2017 National Book Award finalist.

2017 Cooperative Children’s Book Center releases data that 29% of children’s books featuring African American characters were actually written by African Americans. #ownvoices

2017 Research on Diversity in Youth Literature a peer-reviewed, open-access, and online journal announced.  The mission of RDYL “is to publish scholarship attending to issues of diversity, equity, social justice, inclusion, and intersectionality in youth literature, culture, and media.” 

2018 Angela Johnson wins YALSA’s Edwards Award for her body of work.

2018 Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and Kwame Alexander announce plans to launch Versify, a new imprint for young readers.

2018 Survey of Ethnic Representation with UK Children’s Literature 2017 is published as part of the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education’s Reflecting Realities initiative.

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Angela Johnson

2019 Hartfield, Claire. A Few Red Drops: The Chicago Race Riot of 1919 (Clarion Books) CSK Author Award Winner.

2019 Jackson, Tiffany D. Monday’s Not Coming. CSK New Talent Author Award.

2019 Acevedo, Elizabeth. Poet X. (Harper Collins) First AfroLatinx to win the Printz Award; first AfroLatinx to win the Pura Belpré Author Award; National Book Award and Golden Kite Honor Award Winner.

2019 Callender, Kheryn. Hurricane Child. (Scholastic) Stonewall Book Award.

2019 Ukazu, Ngozi. Check, Please!: Hockey. (First Second) Morris Award Finalist.

2019 Adeyemi, Tomi. Children of Blood and Bone. Morris Award Finalist. New York Times Notable Children’s Books of 2018;TIME Top 10 Best YA and Children’s Books of 2018; 2018 Kirkus Prize Finalist; YALSA William C. Morris YA Debut Award Finalist; Boston Globe’s Best Children’s Books of 2018; Publishers Weekly Best YA Books of 2018; School Library Journal Best Books of 2018.


1  Stinton, Judith. (ed) Racism and Sexism in Children’s Books. Writers and Readers Publishing Cooperative, London.




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