The Coretta Scott King Book Awards are given annually to outstanding African American authors and illustrators of books for children and young adults that demonstrate an appreciation of African American culture and universal human values. The award commemorates the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and honors his wife, Mrs. Coretta Scott King, for her courage and determination to continue the work for peace and world brotherhood.
The Coretta Scott King Book Award was founded in 1969 by Mabel McKissick and Glyndon Greer at the American Library Association (ALA) Annual Conference in Atlantic City, New Jersey. The first award was given to Lillie Patterson in 1970 for her biography, Martin Luther King, Jr.: Man of Peace (Garrard).
In 1979, the Coretta Scott King Task Force was formed and became part of ALA’s Social Responsibilities Round Table (SRRT) the next year. In 1982, the Coretta Scott King Book Awards became an officially recognized ALA award. The Coretta Scott King Task Force joined ALA’s Ethnic and Multicultural Information Exchange Round Table (EMIERT) in 2003 and became the Coretta Scott Book Awards Committee.
The Coretta Scott King Book Awards have grown to include several categories. In 1974, George Ford became the first illustrator to receive the award for Ray Charles (Crowell). The John Steptoe Award for New Talent (originally the Genesis Award) was established in 1995 to recognize exceptional work from new African American authors and illustrators. The first Steptoe Award was given to Sharon Draper for Tears of a Tiger (Simon & Schuster). In 2010, the committee established the Coretta Scott King – Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime Achievement to be given alternately to an author or illustrator and a practitioner. The first Hamilton Award recipients were Walter Dean Myers (2010) and Henrietta M. Smith (2011).
Since 1972, the recipients of the Coretta Scott King Book Awards have been honored at a celebratory breakfast during the ALA Annual Conference. In 2009, ALA published the fourth edition of The Coretta Scott King Awards, a complete history of the awards edited by Henrietta M. Smith.