Ashley Bryan is an artist, writer, and storyteller. Drawing on folktales, spirituals, and visual art from Africa and beyond, Bryan merges past and present to create a new voice, born of an ancient one. He has compiled, written, and illustrated more than 50 books for children.
Bryan was an active participant in the Gardner Museum’s School Partnership program during his 1999 residency. He collaborated with two third-grade teachers from the Lawrence School and the Tobin School to expand students’s ideas about poetry, literature, and art. On their first Museum visit, students explored the galleries with Bryan, discovering stories about Isabella Stewart Gardner and the Museum she created. They discussed the importance of voice and listened to Bryan read in the galleries. The groups sketched and wrote throughout the Museum, and Bryan made multiple trips to participating classrooms to help students turn their notes and drawings into storybooks.
Bryan also participated in the annual Teacher Institute that included Museum staff and 30 teachers from the Gardner’s partnership schools. Designed to broaden teachers’ understanding of the Museum and to deepen personal connections, this day-long program explored a different theme each year. With Bryan’s help, this institute focused on the many issues involved in preserving art and other cultural touchstones. Bryan discussed the connections he had made to the collection during his residency and the techniques he uses with children to raise awareness of art and history.
Ashley Bryan’s books for children include: The Dancing Granny (1987), The Night Has Ears (1999), Beautiful Blackbird (2003), All Night, All Day: A Child's First Book of African-American Spirituals (2003), and Let It Shine (2007). Bryan has received numerous awards and honors for his writing and illustration. Beat the Story Drum, Pum-Pum (1980) received a Parents’ Choice Award and the Coretta Scott King Award for illustration. Other honors include the Arbuthnot Prize, the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award for achievement in children’s literature, the University of Southern Mississippi Medallion, and a Fulbright Scholarship. In 2016, Bryan’s Freedom Over Me was shortlisted for the Kirkus Prize. In 2001, the New York Public Library established the Ashley Bryan Children’s Room at its Mott Haven Branch.