The SCBWI is saddened to report that Jerry Pinkney, artist, SCBWI Advisory Council member, and dear friend, has died after suffering a heart attack. He was 81.
Growing up in Philadelphia, the middle child of five siblings, his was a family of storytellers. On evenings he sat rapt as family members and neighbors shared their favorite fables, folk, and fairy tales. He loved the stories and wished to read more, but early in his schooling, he struggled with dyslexia. To express himself, he turned to art and discovered how much he enjoyed telling his own stories through illustration.
After art school, Jerry worked for a greeting card company before illustrating, in 1964, his first children’s book, The Adventures of Spider: A West African Folk Tale. Among the more than 100 books that followed, many celebrated the diversity of cultures he had encountered on the streets and in the Philadelphia public schools he attended. He once said, “As an African American artist often doing black subject matter, I try to portray a sense of celebration, of self-respect and resilience, and also a sense of dignity.”
In 1985 he won the Coretta Scott King Award for The Patchwork Quilt and in 2010 the Caldecott Medal for The Lion and the Mouse. In all, he received five Coretta Scott King awards and five Caldecott Honors in his long career. His many other honors included the Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime Achievement and the SCBWI Golden Kite Award in 1990 for Home Place.
In addition to his long service as a member of the SCBWI Advisory Council, he was a frequent speaker at our conferences and workshops. A mentor to illustrators both new and old, he was universally beloved for both his generosity and his artistry.
We join his wife, Gloria Jean, his children, Troy, Brian, Scott, and Myles, and Brian’s wife Andrea in mourning his loss.
Speaking to members of the Society of Illustrators, Jerry Pinkney once said, “I am a storyteller at heart. There is something special about knowing your stories can alter the way people see the world, and their place within it.”
And we are all the richer for the way he altered and enriched our own world. He is missed.