NEW YORK (AP) – Floyd Cooper, award-winning illustrator and author of children’s books whose mission to deliver candid and positive images of black history included subjects ranging from Frederick Douglass and the civil rights movement to Venus and Serena Williams, has passed away. He was 65 years old.
Author Carole Boston Weatherford, whose “Becoming Billie Holiday” and “Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre” were illustrated by Cooper, told The Associated Press in an email that he died Friday morning after being with cancer for several months. She did not immediately provide further details.
“His cinematic illustrations brought stories to life and held readers close,” Weatherford said. “A dedicated family man and true friend, Floyd was a gifted illustrator and a truth teller. His legacy will continue to enlighten and inspire for generations to come.
Cooper was from Tulsa, Oklahoma, who drew on memories of his grandfather to illustrate Weatherford’s book on the 1921 tragedy. He grew up in poverty and spoke of moving around Tulsa so often that he attended 11 different elementary schools. But he showed an early gift for drawing and received a scholarship to attend the University of Oklahoma.
After working on greeting cards for the Hallmark Company in Kansas City, he moved to New York and illustrated his first published book, Eloise Greenfield’s “Grandpa’s Face”, released in 1988.
He then settled in Easton, Pennsylvania with his wife and agent, Velma, and two sons. He illustrated dozens of books and his work on Joyce Carol Thomas’ “The Blacker the Berry” won him the Coretta Scott King Award in 2009 for the achievement of a black illustrator.
He has also collaborated with renowned authors such as Weatherford, Nikki Grimes, Walter Dean Myers, Jacqueline Woodson and Howard Bryant, including “Sisters & Champions”, about the Williams sisters, was illustrated by Cooper.
“Floyd was a wonderful artist and a fantastic collaborator,” Bryant told the AP in an email Saturday. “I remember when I first received her first 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 couldn’t wait to do it again. It is a huge loss. “
Her other projects included “Frederick Douglass: The Lion Who Wrote History” by Myers, “Mississippi Morning” by Ruth Vander Zee and “A Day for Rememberin ‘: Inspired by the True Events of the First Memorial Day” by Leah Henderson, who is released in May. He has also written a handful of books, including “Juneteenth for Mazie” and “The Ring Bearer”.
Cooper was proud of the bold and dramatic images he produced through what he called “oil erasure,” a style dating back to his childhood in which he used an eraser to form shapes on a canvas. When he picked up a book he would read the manuscript over and over again until images began to appear in his mind.
“Sometimes I get a flood of images the first time I read it! he wrote in a 2018 article for mackincommunity.com. “This is what we illustrators call ‘finding the connection.’ I connect with the story in this special way, as if this story was written just for me.