Insights and Impact

Pursuing Purpose: From Highlights to the Newbery Honor 


Illustra­tion by
Jaylene Arnold

Carole Boston Weatherford

As a child, Carole Boston Weatherford, Kogod/BA ’77, always had her nose in a book. It wasn’t until she noticed a dearth of characters who looked like her that something started to stink. “You can’t long for something you don’t know you’re supposed to have,” she says. Now, as the award-winning author of 62 children’s books, Weatherford has made it her mission to “mine the past for family stories, fading traditions, and forgotten heroes that show the resistance, resilience, and remarkability of African descendants.” The North Carolina resident says she loves the idea that “children whom I will never who meet . . . will read my books and perhaps be touched by them.” 

1956: Born in Baltimore, Maryland.

1960: Found comfort in Robert Louis Stevenson’s poem about a sickly boy, “The Land of Counterpane,” when she fell ill with the measles. “From a very early age, I loved stories and words.” 

1962: Began dictating poems to her mother, a school counselor. Her father, an industrial arts teacher, used the verses as typesetting exercises for his students. 

1964: Recited “I, Too” by Langston Hughes in fourth grade. “Growing up, I enjoyed Dr. Seuss, African folk tales, and the poetry of Langston Hughes. But I wasn’t aware until then that he was African American. That was a turning point for me.”

Delighted in having one of her drawings published in Highlights magazine.

1969: Accused—falsely—of plagiarizing a research paper about Harlem Renaissance poet Countee Cullen by her eighth-grade teacher. “That incident shaped me and made me want to use my voice to document the truth about the Black experience in America.”

1973: Enrolled at AU, where she crafted her own major: promotion/marketing communication. Worked as assistant manager at the record co-op on campus and designed and sold her own fashions. Her bestseller: a pair of unisex, wide-legged, pleated pants. 

1978: Worked as a field representative for the Red Cross. “To sell anything, you have to get people to like you, and I guess people did. I was the best blood donor recruiter in Baltimore.”

1980: Discovered her poem “I’m Made of Jazz” was published in Metropolitan while flipping through the magazine in the dentist’s office. “I was getting ready to go back to [school] to pursue a master’s in public administration. But when I saw that, I got it my head, ‘I’m a poet.’ I went to one class, then dropped out.”

1981: Began working as director of communications for the National Bar Association in DC.

1982: Earned a master’s in publications design from the University of Baltimore. Professor told her that her graduate photo essay project could be a book. “That planted the seed.” Remember the Bridge was published in 2002.  

1985: Married, moved to North Carolina, and began working in corporate public relations. 

1987: Welcomed daughter Caresse. Son Jeffrey was born two years later. 

1992: Graduated with her MFA in creative writing from the University of North Carolina– Greensboro with two children’s book contracts under her belt. “When I took my kids to story time at the library, I noticed there were more diverse books for them than there had been for me. I thought I could contribute to what was a multicultural boom.”

1995: Published her first picture book, Juneteenth Jamboree. 

2002: Began teaching part-time at Fayetteville State University (FSU). Accepted a tenure-track position in 2006, teaching courses in business and professional writing, children’s and adolescent literature, and hip hop.

2007: Received the Caldecott Honor and the first of two NAACP Image Awards for Outstanding Literary Work for Children for Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom. 

2008: Listened to Billie Holiday’s early recordings on her 100-mile commute to FSU while writing her first young adult novel about the Baltimore-born jazz singer. Becoming Billie Holiday—acquired by a publisher in just 24 hours—was named a Coretta Scott King Award Honor Book. 

2016: Collaborated with her illustrator son on You Can Fly: The Tuskegee Airmen. Traveled together to schools in west West Africa to promote the book. “Working with him has been the biggest perk of my career.”

2017: Won the Caldecott Medal for Freedom in Congo Square. 

2020: Received the Newbery Honor for BOX: Henry Brown Mails Himself to Freedom.

Inducted into the North Carolina Literary Hall of Fame. 

2021: Named a finalist for the Kirkus Prize for Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre, illustrated by the late Floyd Cooper, whose grandfather survived the 1921 mob.  

Put the finishing touches on Call Me Miss Hamilton: One Woman’s Case for Equality and Respect. Slated for February 2022 release, the book chronicles the life of a Black civil rights activist who sued for the right to be addressed with an honorific. “It’s about the power of a name and who deserves respect.”