On February 4, 2022, beloved children's artist and writer Ashley Bryan died at the age of 98. As a child growing up in the Bronx, Ashley loved to draw, and his teachers encouraged his gift. When high school came to a close, his teachers helped him to assemble a portfolio and apply for a scholarship to an art school.

He was very discouraged when he was rejected for scholarships because he was black, despite an outstanding portfolio. Then he discovered that Cooper Union had a blind application process, and he was awarded a full scholarship.

During his time at Cooper Union, the United States entered World War II, and Ashley was drafted in 1943. He was deployed to Europe and was part of the D-Day invasion force.

During his military service, he didn't stop drawing, and captured much of his experience as a soldier in his art. In his book, Infinite Hope, he shares the story of his time in World War II, accompanied by photos, letters home to a school friend, and some of the many drawings he sent home during those years. He shares the hardships of the war experience, but also, the unique challenges endured by the segregated black units as they faced discrimination even while serving their country.

After his return, he continued his studies at Columbia University, and in Germany, on a Fulbright Scholarship. He taught for many years, including as a tenured professor at Dartmouth College. His main legacy is as a writer and illustrator of children's books. He was passionate about poetry and about bringing the African and African American experience to life. As his obituary states, "Ashley was an early, quiet, and potent force in bringing children of color and issues of racial diversity into the canon of children's literature…He was committed to opening the eyes of children of all backgrounds to a wide range of themes through poetry, folktales, spirituals, and biblical narratives."

Ashley worked in a variety of mediums and created puppets and beautiful stained-glass windows using items he found while walking on Little Cranberry Island, where he established the Ashley Bryan Center. His exuberance is evident in interviews and performances for children. As we continue to celebrate Black History Month, take a few minutes to learn more about this gifted artist and storyteller and engage with his work.

Explore Ashley Bryan's Work

Dozens of Ashley Bryan's books are available at the public library. Check out one of these suggestions:

Freedom Over Me: Eleven Slaves, Their Lives and Dreams
Inspired by original slave auction documents, Ashley brings to life the hopes and dreams of eleven enslaved people in this Newbery Honor Book.

Who Built the Stable? A Nativity Poem
In this picture book poem, Ashley imagines a young boy who makes the space for Jesus to be born.

Infinite Hope: A Black Artist's Journey from World War II to Peace
Through his drawings, letters, and writing, Ashley brings his war experience to life. Great for middle school readers through adults.

Painter and Poet: The Wonderful World of Ashley Bryan
(6 minutes)
Explore Ashley's studio and learn how he created his art.

Ashley Bryan – Live Performance at Schoodic Arts For All
(57 minutes)
Watch Ashley engage a crowd of elementary school students with poetry and storytelling. You'll want to join in as he and the children recite poetry.