Born: June 18, 1961
Ohio connection: Resident
Raised in Windham, Ohio, Angela Johnson, the author of The First Part Last, Cool Midnight, and Heaven, attended Kent State University before dropping out to pursue a career as a children's author. Working as a nanny, she was employed by Newbery-Medal-winning author Cynthia Rylant. Before leaving Kent, Johnson presented Rylant with a sample of her work, which the supportive author forwarded to her publisher. In 1989, Johnson's first work, a picture book entitled Tell Me a Story Momma, (reminiscences of a mother and daughter about favorite bed-time stories) met with critical acclaim. It was through a series of picture books that Johnson first captured the attention of national critics. Their plots focused on the relationships between African-American children and their parents, grandparents, siblings, and friends. Utilizing engaging, first-person narratives, Johnson's books described identifiable emotions and the unique perspective of children towards a wide spectrum of issues. In Do Like Kyla (1990), a young girl imitates the gestures and speech of her older sibling. In When I am Old With You, the young narrator jubilantly describes to his grandfather the tremendous fun they will share when he catches up to him in age. Although the storyteller of One of Three (1991) celebrates being one of three sisters, she laments the exclusivity of some activities in which her older sisters engage. As she broadened her scope by writing for older children, Johnson addressed such pertinent issues as divorce, the traumatic loss of siblings, and the endurance of both the body and spirit through chronic illness. Toning the Sweep, her first foray into young adult literature, was published in 1993. The story, which earned Johnson her first Coretta Scott King award, is told by fourteen-year-old Emily, who videotapes the final days of her grandmother's life, preserving her recollections of the past before the onset of her cancer. Sophie, an aspiring dancer, fears in Humming Whisper that she is developing the schizophrenia that is now afflicting her older sister. Heaven, which earned Johnson a second Coretta Scott King award, features fourteen-year-old Marley who experiences the revelation that the couple she has known as her mother and father are actually her aunt and uncle. Johnson received her third Coretta Scott King award for The First Part Last. In 2003, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation awarded Johnson a grant of $500,000, making her one of only four children’s writers to have been so distinguished. In the following year, the American Library Association bestowed its Michael L. Printz Award for literary excellence in young adult literature upon The First Part Last.
Best Books citation, School Library Journal, 1989, for Tell Me a Story, Mama; Ezra Jack Keats New Writer Award, United States Board on Books for Young People, and Coretta Scott King Honor Book, American Library Association Social Responsibilities Round Table, both 1991, both for When I Am Old with You; Best Books citation, School Library Journal, c. 1993, and Coretta Scott King Award, 1994, both for Toning the Sweep; Coretta Scott King Award, 1999, for Heaven; Coretta Scott King Honor Book, 1999, for The Other Side: Shorter Poems.