Ezra Jack Keats Foundation Celebrates 50th Anniversary Of "The Snowy Day"
The Ezra Jack Keats Foundation is celebrating the 50th anniversary of "The Snowy Day" with a new edition of the book and an exhibit at the Jewish Museum on Fifth Avenue. NY1’s Jeanine Ramirez filed the following report.
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It's a story of a boy named Peter and his adventures in the snow on a city street. The book "The Snowy Day" by Brooklyn author Ezra Jack Keats was released in 1962. It was the first children's picture book to feature an African American as its main character.
"It was an important book when it was published. It was groundbreaking. But it's actually more important and more relevant today, which isn't true of many 50-year-old books,” says Regina Hayes, president of Viking Children’s Books. “It influenced so many African American artists even though Ezra was not. He was white, he was Jewish, he was from Brooklyn."
While Keats had illustrated other children's books, he finally got the chance to write one of his own. His used the setting of his childhood, East New York, and based his character on a series of pictures featured in the pages of a 1940s issue of Life Magazine.
"Ezra identified with this image, and he cut it out and for 20 years he traveled everywhere with this thing. He moved, he did this and that but it always stayed up on his bulletin board,” says Dr. Deborah Pope of the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation.
A look at the history of the book is included in a new 50th anniversary edition.
"We wanted to include bonus material to give a glimpse into the creative process, and so it includes the original manuscript, the original cover sketches, the cable that was sent to Ezra when he won the Caldecott Medal," says Hayes.
The Jewish Museum on Fifth Avenue is featuring the first major exhibition of Keats' work in the United States. More than 80 of his works are displayed.
There are also letters from his fans, including literary legend Langston Hughes. A recreation of the bed from "The Snowy Day" is a centerpiece of the exhibit, as the book was the springboard of his pioneering career. It was also the first time he experimented with collage technique and paint splatters in his artwork.
"It was if Ezra's memories, Ezra's being, tumbled out of him in this new art form, which then he began to develop," says Dr. Pope.
Keats died in 1983, but the royalties from his books support the foundation he had set up in his name early in his career.
The foundation establishes art and literacy programs across the country.