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 wife, Lillie Pope, now 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.
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 the Brooklyn Public Library; celebrations in parks, school and libraries around the country; and extensive media coverage.
“The Snowy Day and the Art of Ezra Jack Keats”
The Jewish Museum in New York City organized a major retrospective of Keats’s life and work with support from the EJK Foundation and original material from the Keats Archive. From 2012 to 2014, 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.
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).