Skip to Navigation | Skip to Content
Pinkneys Make Festival A Family Affair
April 6, 2006

The 2006 Festival of Faith and Writing at Calvin College, to be held April 20-22, will welcome a number of celebrated African-American authors and illustrators.

Notable among them are four members of the same family: Jerry, Gloria, Myles C. and Sandra Pinkney.

"The Pinkneys are sort of a dynasty in the world of children's publishing," explains Calvin English professor Don Hettinga, a member of the festival committee. "They’re going to talk about what they're up to, about their recent books and about what it's like to work with family members."

The patriarch of the family, Jerry Pinkney, is also the most prolific and honored member of the family.

He has illustrated more than 100 books for children since 1964 in his distinctive mottled watercolor style, among them Black Cowboy, Wild Horses, Sam and the Tigers and The Patchwork Quilt.

He is the recipient of five Caldecott Honor Medals and five Coretta Scott King Awards as well as three honors. He has created art for the United States Postal Service Black Heritage stamps and the 2005 National Book Festival, has had more than 20 retrospective shows of his work at major U.S. venues, and has taught illustration and conducted workshops at universities across the country.

"Over and over again, he's done really remarkable projects," Hettinga says. "He's hit all the major genres of children's literature: folk tales, classic fairy tales, fables, realistic stories, nonfiction, biblical retellings. His range is extraordinary."

Jerry Pinkney is also a pioneer in the field of African-American children’s literature.

"Off the top of my head," says Hettinga, "I would say that he is one of two major illustrators of African-American children's literature. And he has been a role model to young people coming up through the ranks in that field."

One person who readily claims the elder Pinkney as both mentor friend is Coretta Scott King Award-winning illustrator James Ransome, who visited Jerry's illustration class as a student at the Pratt Institute and later made a point of meeting the illustrator.

"Once I received a contract to illustrate my first book, I wrote Jerry a letter, pleading for a visit," Ransome recalls. "He called and welcomed me to his studio. I continued to visit as often as possible, and he kindly critiqued every book I illustrated for the next six years. Along with the critiques, he gave me an education on the business, from speaking engagements to dealing with publishers. Unfortunately, our schedules don't allow for as many visits as we used to have, but I still treasure the bi-monthly phone conversations we have."

Gloria Pinkney is a writer of children's books, among them Back Home, illustrated by her husband.

"The two of them are kind of a package," Hettinga says. Gloria helped Jerry with research, costuming and hiring models for his illustration. Her latest book Music from Our Lord's Holy Heaven, a collection of classic gospel songs illustrated by her sons Brian and Myles, includes a disc of her singing.

Myles C. Pinkney, Jerry and Gloria's son, and his wife Sandra Pinkney also work as a team.

Myles, a photographer, serves as a photo-illustrator on books written by Sandra. Their Shades of Black won a 2001 NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Children’s Literary Work. (The Pinkney authorial dynasty also includes Brian, an illustrator and Andrea, a longtime head of children's publishing at Houghton Mifflin, neither of whom will be attending the festival).

Beyond their impressive panorama of accomplishment in both the children's literature and African-American children's literature fields, the Pinkneys are a natural fit for the 2006 Festival of Faith and Writing, says Hettinga, because of their evident and explicit faith.

"They represent perhaps the best of what festival is about," he says. "They are people who do excellent work in their genre and are recognized for their excellence, and there's a special quality about it. They're not doing books that are necessarily Christian books, but they're doing good writing and good illustrating as Christians. There's a clear positive light and a clear moral vision in their work - along with an evident appreciation for children as image bearers of God."

Other African-American authors participating in the 2006 festival are Eleanor Taylor Bland, a writer of detective fiction, award-winning poet Nikki Grimes, journalist and professor of journalism Patricia Raybon and Liberian poet Patricia Jabbeh Wesley.

Keynote speakers for the event will be Alice McDermott, Marilynne Robinson, Salman Rushdie and Walter Wangerin Jr. They join a long list of past notable keynoters at the Festival, including John Updike, Maya Angelou, Chaim Potok and Joyce Carol Oates.

~written by media relations staff writer Myrna Anderson