Floyd Cooper, the Coretta Scott King award-winning illustrator of over 100 books for children, has passed away following a battle with cancer. He was 64.
A gifted artist, devoted mentor, wonderful speaker and friend to the children’s book community, Floyd’s numerous awards include a Coretta Scott King Honor for his illustrations in Brown Honey in Broomwheat Tea by Joyce Carol Thomas and for I Have Heard of a Land by Joyce Carol Thomas and the Coretta Scott King Award for The Blacker the Berry by Joyce Carol Thomas (all HarperCollins). In 2015 he received the SCBWI Golden Kite Award for his illustrations of A Dance Like Starlight: One Ballerina’s Dream (Philomel) written by Kristy Dempsey.
His latest book, Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre (Millbrook Press) written by Carole Boston Weatherford is a powerful telling of one of the darkest moments in this country’s history, made all the more moving by his luminous art.
Mr. Cooper spoke often at SCBWI events and at The Highlights Foundations workshops. Those who heard and met him can testify to his generosity, his humor, and his love for the work he had chosen to pursue. He leaves behind a lasting body of work for all children and a particular legacy that features Black children in the pages of books. SCBWI sends condolences to his wife Velma and sons Kai and Dayton. While we grieve his loss, we treasure his vision, his body of work, and his memory.
Two of Floyd Cooper’s longtime friends, Don Tate and Nikki Grimes, have generously offered their own thoughts and remembrances.
FROM DON TATE
I’ve been a longtime admirer and fan of Floyd Cooper and his work. Early on in my career, before I was published, I reached out to several African American illustrators for their advice. Floyd was my first phone call. He was warm and generous with his time, and eventually led me to an editor at Hyperion, who hired me to illustrate my first book in the trade. He also led me to an agent—who didn’t take me on as a client, but who did find work for me here and there. Years later, I met Floyd in person at a Highlight’s conference, where he critiqued my work. Needless to say, I was star-struck and could barely get any words out of my mouth. But Floyd was Mr. Cool, as some called him, and endlessly cracked jokes (I never got his jokes…lol!), putting everyone around him at ease. I was especially honored when I was invited to lead workshops at Highlights, with Floyd Cooper—my mentor—as my special guest! In my last message to him, I gushed about his illustrations in the book UNSPEAKABLE, and joked with him that he’d better get the Caldecott for that or else! I felt blessed whenever our publishing paths crossed. He will be sorely missed.
FROM NIKKI GRIMES
Floyd and I go back to the early 1990’s when he illustrated Meet Danitra Brown. He won a Coretta Scott Honor for our book, and we met in person, for the first time, at the following ALA conference. It would be the first of many meetings, and I grew to love and appreciate his work, and his heart, every year since. I’ve been especially happy to see him rise to new heights, and reach new depths, in his work in recent years, and was most excited about his work on Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre. We had hopes of working together again. Instead, I’m left to grieve his loss, as we all must. But I’m also blessed to be able to celebrate the work he left behind. I’m grateful to have known and worked with this gifted artist.
Cooper’s family has put together a GoFundMe to cover his funeral expenses.
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