Floyd Cooper, "an award-winning illustrator and author of children's books whose mission to offer candid and positive images of Black history included subjects ranging from Frederick Douglass and the civil rights movement to Venus and Serena Williams," died July 16, according to the AP (via ABC News). He was 65 and had been ill with cancer.
Cooper grew up poor in Tulsa, Okla., moving so often that he attended 11 elementary schools in the city. He drew on stories his grandfather told about the 1921 Tulsa race massacre when illustrating Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre by Carole Boston Weatherford.
He also illustrated Weatherford's Becoming Billie Holiday. She told the AP that Cooper's "cinematic illustrations brought stories to life and held readers close. A devoted family man and genuine friend, Floyd was a gifted illustrator and truth-teller. His legacy will continue to enlighten and to inspire for generations to come."
Cooper had an early gift for drawing and received a scholarship to attend the University of Oklahoma. He then worked on greeting cards for Hallmark in Kansas City. After moving to New York City, he illustrated his first published book, Eloise Greenfield's Grandpa's Face, published in 1988.
He later settled in Easton, Pa., with his wife and agent, Velma, and two sons. He illustrated dozens of books, and for his work on Joyce Carol Thomas's The Blacker the Berry, he won the Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award in 2009.
He also collaborated with such authors as Nikki Grimes, Walter Dean Myers, Jacqueline Woodson and Howard Bryant, whose Sisters & Champions, was about the Williams sisters.
Bryant told the AP: "Floyd was a wonderful artist and a fantastic collaborator. I remember when I first received his initial pages for Sisters & Champions, I was just blown away. For my first children's book, I was so proud to share a project with him and really looked forward to doing so again. This is an enormous loss."
Other projects included Myers's Frederick Douglass: The Lion Who Wrote History, Ruth Vander Zee's Mississippi Morning and Leah Henderson's A Day for Rememberin': Inspired by the True Events of the First Memorial Day. He also wrote a handful of books, among them Juneteenth for Mazie and The Ring Bearer.
The AP wrote that Cooper "prided himself on the bold, dramatic images he produced through what he called 'oil erasure,' a style dating back to his childhood for which he used an eraser to form shapes on a canvas. When taking on a book, he would read the manuscript over and over until pictures began to appear in his mind."
In a 2018 post, Cooper wrote, "Sometimes I get a flood of images from the very first reading! That is what we illustrators call 'finding the connect.' I connect with the story in that special way, as if that story was written just for me."