(Courtesy of School Library Journal)


Bryan Collier
By Staff -- 5/1/2001

Bryan Collier, author and illustrator of Uptown (Holt, 2000), is the winner of the first Ezra Jack Keats Award for illustration and the creator of this month's SLJ cover. For 12 years, he directed the Harlem Horizon Art Studio, offering a creative outlet to seriously injured children at Harlem Hospital in New York City. These days, Collier is visiting classrooms across the country, doing the same sort of thing—talking to kids about art and the creative process.

What's the first thing that you do when you're in a classroom? I first ask how many artists are in the crowd, and maybe two hands may be raised. And then I go around to each kid and find out what he or she likes. And I ask them to tell me a story about themselves. Normally, what happens is they'll say, "Nothing's happening; I'm cool."

How do you get beyond that? I was just in Columbus, Ohio. I [asked] a girl—she was about 14 years old—"Tell me a little story about you." And she said, "The thing that comes to mind is that when I was little, I fell and broke my arm." Her parents took her to the hospital and got it put in a cast, and she came back and tripped and broke her ankle the same day. This is something that clicked for her that day…. It was just a weird time in her life, when she was clumsy. But that sparked the other kids to tell a story about who they were, just personal things that nobody knew. So I said, "You just blessed the class with honesty." Then we talked about creativity and how creative we can be, even with the clothes that we pick every morning to put on. They're the same decisions that artists make; so we've got to drop the label of artist and find the common thread that we all have.

As an artist, why do you think it's important to work with children? For me, it's almost a ministry in which I can talk to kids about who they really are—honestly, in a profound way that they don't get in a classroom, because they are under time constraints to get a certain amount of information and regurgitate it back. Whereas, nobody takes the first five minutes of the day and says, "Everybody stand up. Tell me what's going on, even if nothing is going on."



View the Bryan Collier Black Art Gallery


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