Earlier this year, Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) Arts & Design reported that they had commissioned artist Ashley Bryan to create a poster to display on New York City’s subway stations and cars. According to the MTA, about 2.6 billion customers utilize the subway system each year. The title of the artwork is “New York Voices,” and it “celebrat[es] the variety of voices that create the soundtrack of New York City.” Bryan has won countless awards and honors throughout his over five decades as a poet, author and illustrator, however this latest achievement introduced him and his art to millions of potentially new admirers.
Ashley Bryan is a native of New York and the son of Jamaican immigrants. As a child, he was exposed to various forms of literature, art, and music. His parents and community nurtured his creativity, which resulted in him self-publishing his own alphabet book when he was in kindergarten. Bryan’s post-secondary education at Cooper Union Art School was cut short by World War II. He was drafted and served in America’s segregated military. While fighting abroad he continued to draw—sometimes on toilet paper. After the war, Bryan returned to Cooper Union and graduated. He also studied philosophy and literature at Columbia University, art in Europe on a Fulbright scholarship, and went on to teach at several colleges.
Bryan was in his forties before he published his first book. He was the first Black American to author and illustrate a book in 1962. His work mostly encompasses the Black experience, folktales, and spirituals, and he frequently recites Langston Hughes’ “My People” before he gives a presentation. On July 13th, Bryan will be 93 years-old. His philosophy about the obstacles and successes he’s experienced in life is: “I never gave up. Many were more gifted than I but they gave up. They dropped out. What they faced out there in the world—they gave up.” Bryan is the author and/or illustrator of over fifty books. To learn more about our spotlight author, Ashley Bryan, click on the sources and additional reading links below.
What you do inspires the life of others; it’s not just exhibiting it yourself. How does it tap the onlooker to see something about their own life? They can see it and they can ask themselves, ‘What do I do well? What can I do that I can share and offer
Let it Shine (2007)
Beautiful Blackbird (2003)
Can't Scare Me! (2003)
Sing the Sun (1992)
Turtle Knows Your Name (1989)
The Cat's Purr (1985)
Beat the Story Drum, Pum-Pum (1980)
The Dancing Granny (1977)
Adventures of Aku (1976)