James Haskins (September 19, 1941-July 6, 2005) was a prolific and award-winning author with more than one hundred books for both adults and children. Many of his books highlight the achievements of African Americans and cover the history and culture of Africa and the African American experience. His work also included many biographical subjects ranging from Hank Aaron to Scatman Crothers and Malcolm X. Most of his writings were for young people. He wrote on a great variety of subjects that introduced young people to the language and cultures of other countries, especially Africa.
Haskins was born in Demopolis, Alabama, and spent his childhood in a household with lots of children. He received his high school education in Boston, Massachusetts. He received a B.A. degree from Georgetown University in 1960, a B.S. degree from Alabama State University in 1962, and a M.A. degree from the University of New Mexico in 1963.
After graduation, before he decided to become a teacher, Haskins moved to New York and worked as a stock trader on Wall Street. He taught music and special education classes in Harlem. His first book, Diary of a Harlem Schoolteacher, was a result of his experience. He was a professor of English at the University of Florida, Gainesville, and lived in New York City.
Haskins died in 2005 of complications from emphysema.
Haskins' picture books, with many brightly colored pictures and few words, were geared to young children just learning to read. They tend to highlight the achievements of African Americans in society. The characters in his stories cover the gamut of African American role models, from Rosa Parks to the black members of the Hannibal Guards, a military organization in Pittsburgh during the Civil War. Children's Literature: Meet Authors & Illustrators
Haskins' 1977 picture book The Cotton Club, featuring gangsters, jilted love, and pre-prohibition gangsters, was used as inspiration for the 1984 film of the same name.
In 1998 his critically acclaimed young adult book African American Entrepreneurs was published by Jossey-Bass in English. The book followed the success of his first work, Voodoo and Hoodoo: The Craft as Revealed by Traditional Practitioners, which was published some twenty years prior.
Haskins won many awards for his work. Several of his books won the Coretta Scott King Award including The Story of Stevie Wonder, which won the award in 1976; and Lena Horne, which won the same award in 1984. Bricktop was chosen by the English-Speaking Union to be a Book-Across-the-Sea in 1983. Black Music in America won the 1988 Carter G. Woodson Book Award of the National Council for Social Studies. His four-book Count Your Way series (Arab World, China, Japan, and Russia) won the Alabama Library Association Award for best work for children in 1988. In 1994, he was presented the Washington Post Children’s Book Guide Award.