How We Began
The Ezra Jack Keats Foundation was incorporated in 1964, with Ezra as President and his lifelong friend, Martin Pope, as Secretary, and remained private until Ezra’s death, in 1983. His will directed that the Foundation use the royalties from his books for social good. It was left to his successors to decide how best to carry out his wishes.
With Ezra’s royalties, Martin Pope and his late wife, Lillie Pope, who became President and Vice President of the Foundation, focused their efforts on a population especially dear to Ezra: children. During his impoverished boyhood, the public schools where he won prizes in art and the public libraries where he learned about the world were lifelines that allowed him to dream of success. Through the support of its programs, the Foundation gives generations of children the same kind of opportunities, and hopefully, to a lifetime of learning, a love of reading and a belief in themselves.
Ezra’s commitment to diversity in children’s books is acknowledged by the Ezra Jack Keats Book Award, which recognizes emerging writers and illustrators whose books reflect our diverse culture. The Foundation also supports fellowships for the study of children’s literature and scholarships in art and music to universities, museums, music schools and other public organizations.
Many of the programs implemented by Martin and Lillie Pope are still going strong. Deborah Pope, Executive Director since 1999, has made it her mission to expand the programs to reach as many beneficiaries as possible. Below is a partial list of current and past programs and the dates they began. For a complete list of current programs, see Programs. For more on past achievements, see Awards & Honors.
Expansion of the Ezra Jack Keats Bookmaking Competition
In partnership with the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco and the United San Francisco School District, the Foundation expanded one of its signature programs to the West Coast. In 2016 the EJK Bookmaking program in Baltimore announced its first awards (our partners: Enoch Pratt Free Library, Reginald F. Lewis Museum, Jump In Studio and Baltimore City Public Schools). The city of Atlanta had its first EJK Bookmaking Awards ceremony in 2017.
Bedtime Story series
A story hour presented monthly at Brooklyn Public Library Central Library and four times a year at Arlington Library. Children, who could attend in pajamas, received a free picture book. In 2016, the series became Ezra Jack Keats Story and Craft, held at the same intervals and with free books.
A long-running storytelling series in Prospect Park, funded by the Foundation, began at the Ocean Avenue Playground, with master storyteller Cooper-Moore. The Foundation commissioned sculptor and artist Otto Neals to cast a bronze sculpture of Ezra’s iconic characters Peter and Willie for a new playground planned for the site. Tupper Thomas of the Prospect Park Alliance made the project a reality. In 1997 the Imagination Playground opened with Peter and Willie as a prominent installation, at which storyteller Tammy Hall continues the tradition of spinning tales every Saturday in July and August. In 2016 the sculpture was designated a Literary Landmark by the NYC Department of Parks and United for Libraries.
Ezra Jack Keats Mini-Grants
Supporting programs in U.S. public schools and libraries that demonstrate creativity and cooperation, and allow educators to step outside the standard curriculum with special activities for their students. Projects that advance the Common Core within the curriculum became eligible in 2015.
Ezra Jack Keats Bookmaking Competition
A city-wide initiative, launched with the New York Public Library and the New York City Department of Education. Open to grades 3-12 for writing and illustrating books, with awards for city-wide and borough winners. In 2000 the Competition added the high school category, thank to a generous grant from the Pierre and Marie-Gaetana Matisse Foundation. In 2012 the Competition left the NYPL for the Brooklyn Public Library’s flagship branch, at Grand Army Plaza, where judging and an exhibition of the winning books take place every spring. (At Chancellor Carmen Fariña’s request, the 2015 awards ceremony took place at the Tweed Courthouse, DOE headquarters.)
Established at the de Grummond Childrenʼs Literature Collection, at the University of Southern Mississippi (USM), in Hattiesburg, the Archive preserves Keatsʼs original artwork, private papers and memorabilia, and provides material for exhibitions.
Ezra Jack Keats Book Award
An award for early-career children’s book authors of picture books that celebrate originality, diversity and family. The program was designed by the EJK Foundation’s Lillie Pope and Hannah Nuba, founder of the Early Childhood Resource and Information Center (ECRIC) of the New York Public Library. The New Writer Award was first presented in 1986, the New Illustrator Award was added in 2001, and the Honor Books category, in 2012. A move to the University of Southern Mississippi, the same year, brought the award under the stewardship of the de Grummond Children’s Literature Collection. The award ceremony takes place during the annual Children’s Book Festival, in April.
Ezra Jack Keats Centennial
A year-long celebration of Ezra’s 100th birthday, including an all-star Birthday Read-a-thon; the designation of the Peter and Willie statue in Prospect Park as a Literary Landmark; a Proclamation of Ezra Jack Keats Day by the Mayor of New York; and around the country, theatre productions; talks and workshops; events at museums and parks, and innumerable parties at schools and libraries. Happy 100th, Ezra!
The Snowy Day’s 50th anniversary
A year-long commemoration, including a special edition of the Keats classic, with added features, published by Viking; “A Snowy Day in May,” a family festival hosted by the Brooklyn Public Library; celebrations in parks, schools and libraries around the country; and extensive media coverage.
The Snowy Day and the Art of Ezra Jack Keats
A major retrospective of Keats’s life and work was organized by The Jewish Museum, in New York City, with support from the EJK Foundation and original material from the Keats Archive. After closing there in 2012, the exhibition traveled to the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, Massachusetts; the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco; the Akron Art Museum in Ohio; the National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia; and the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles.
The Foundation launched a national literacy campaign with the founding of this small press. Copies of its first publication, an updated edition of the influential textbook Teach Anyone to Read: A No-Nonsense Guide, by Lillie Pope, were sent to libraries, colleges and universities in every state. In 2011 EJK Press brought out an e-book edition.
Keats Family Concert
The popular event, featuring a crowd-pleasing musical headliner and a Keats storyteller, was part of the Celebrate Brooklyn! summer event series in Prospect Park. The final concert took place in June, 2016, as a celebration of Keats’s centennial year.
International Book Week
The EJK Foundation developed and supported this event at the Library of Congress, in Washington, D.C., for 10 years. The program for educators featured speakers such as Roald Dahl, Leo Lionni, Eric Carle and Ashley Bryan.
This traveling children’s library based in Jerusalem brought books to Arab and Israeli children until hostilities made it too dangerous. The Foundation currently supports the New Israel Foundation in its efforts to preserve civil rights in Israel.
International Award for Excellence in Children’s Book Illustration
This biennial award was established by the Foundation with UNICEF and the United States Board on Books for Young People (USBBY). The 1992 ceremony, in The Hague, Netherlands, was broadcast to a worldwide audience in honor of UNICEF. A reorganization of UNICEF in 1994 brought the award to an end. Winners included Felipe Davalos (1986, Mexico), Barbara Reid (1987, Canada), Feeroozeh Golmohammadi (1989, Iran) and Arone Meeks (1992, Australia).