The Texas Book Festival awards the Texas Writer Award each year to a Texas author who has made a significant contribution to the literary arts. Previous recipients include Tim O’Brien, Sarah Bird, Sandra Cisneros, Steven Weinberg, and Pat Mora.
This year, we are honored to name Don Tate as the recipient of the 2021 Texas Writer Award.
“Born with a pencil in his hand,” Don recalls that for as early as he can remember, he was always drawing and making things with his hands. He felt that he was always an artist.
What Don didn’t see himself as, or didn’t think it was possible to imagine himself as, however, was a writer. Don wasn’t a reader in his youth. He didn’t see himself represented in books and believed that the world of writers and words were for white people.
But he had an aunt, Eleanor E. Tate, who was a trailblazer. She was the first black journalist at the Des Moines Register and also wrote young adult fiction. When one of her books, Just an Overnight Guest, was adapted for TV, Don attended the premiere at the Des Moines Public Library. For Don, “it was the moment I realized I could be a book creator. It gave me permission to dream.”
Don moved to Austin in 1999 to work at the Austin American-Statesman as graphics reporter, a career he had started in Iowa at the Des Moines Register. Joining the Austin chapter of the Society of Children’s Writers and Illustrators (SCWBI), he credits the encouragement he found within the children’s book writing community, and especially the mentoring he received from Cynthia Leitich Smith, as instrumental in launching his career as an illustrator and writer.
Don’s first book publication as an illustrator was Say Hey: A Song of Willie Mays, followed by many book illustrator credits including Summer Sun Risin’, Black All Around!, Ron’s Big Mission, She loved Baseball: The Effa Manley Story, Duke Ellington’s Nutcracker Suite, Hope’s Gift, The Cart That Carried Martin, and The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch.
It Jes’ Happened: When Bill Traylor Started to Draw marked Don’s debut as an author and was illustrated by R. Gregory Christie. For his very first book, Don was recognized as the Ezra Jack Keats New Writer Honor winner in 2012.
He wrote and illustrated his next book, Poet: The Remarkable Story of George Moses Horton (Peachtree Publishers, 2015). Poet went on to receive multiple awards and Don made history as the first two-time recipient of an Ezra Jack Keats award.
In recent years, Don has been busy as ever, publishing and illustrating books that celebrate the important stories and contributions of blacks in American history. Don is a 2021 Texas Book Festival author with his latest book, Pigskins to Paintbrushes: The Story of Football-Playing Artist Ernie Barnes. Passionate about raising the awareness of Black voices writing for young readers, Don is the founding host of The Brown Bookshelf. Don also gives so much of his time to inspire young readers through school visits to elementary schools across Texas and beyond. He participates frequently in Texas Book Festival’s Reading Rock Stars program as a featured author and illustrator.
Overcoming his insecurities about being a writer and as an award-winning author and illustrator of more than 80 books, Don reflects:
“What I discovered is that writing is just like illustrating, but using different tools. With illustration, I’m using my stylus and graphics program. With writing, I’m using nouns, verbs, and adjectives.”