Nominations are now open for the 2017 WNBA Award and in honor of the award and Black History Month, we’re running a spotlight series on some of the groundbreaking women who impacted books and readership today, continuing with Augusta Braxton Baker.
Augusta Braxton Baker was born in Baltimore in 1911, the only child of two schoolteachers. After receiving her high school diploma from the segregated school where her father taught, she attended the University of Pittsburgh before she married James Baker III and transferred to the New York College for Teachers. She’d graduated during the Depression and put in applications, but her husband insisted she not work. He believed that, because he had a job and their family was financially stable, it was her duty to stay out of the workforce and thus to free up a position for someone who needed the work. Accordingly, she stayed home and had her first child, only to be surprised when she was perfunctorily handed a position as a children’s librarian with the New York Public Library in 1937.
In the role, she began taking books off the shelves which depicted black characters with negative stereotypes and replacing them with more accurate and inspiring books. Her work, and her skill with storytelling, was noticed: in 1953 she was appointed “storytelling specialist” and in 1961 she became the children’s collection coordinator across all 82 branches of the library, the highest role that a black employee had held in the NYPL at the time. She did not, however, remain solely within the libraries: she published bibliographies, story collections, and a treatise on storytelling, wrote book reviews for The New York Times, and began conducting a weekly broadcast, “The World of Children’s Literature,” on WNYC Radio in the 1970s.
She became the second black women to win the WNBA award in 1971 and the first recipient of the Dutton McCrae Award for Intercultural Children’s Work. When she retired from the library, she moved the South Carolina, where the University of South Carolina appointed her Storyteller-in-Residence and began a yearly storytelling festival in her honor called “A(ugusta) Baker’s Dozen”. She died in 1998.
Stay tuned for the next Black History Month Spotlight on past WNBA Award winner: Effie Lee Morris. Check out the first WNBA Award winner, Charlemae Hill Rollins.