Kadir Nelson is a naturally gifted artist whose extraordinary talent continues to develop and be discovered. Before the age of 30, Nelson had already illustrated children's books, sold paintings to celebrities, and worked on a movie directed by Steven Spielberg.
Nelson received the 2012 Coretta Scott King Award for writing and illustrating Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans. In 2007 Kadir Nelson received a Caldecott Honor for his evocative illustrations in Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom. In 2008 he won a second Caldecott Honor for his artwork in Henry's Freedom Box: A True Story from the Underground Railroad.
You can watch the interview below, view the interview transcript, read a short biography on Kadir Nelson, or see a selected list of his children's books. (This video is also available on YouTube and iTunes.)
Kadir Nelson was born in Washington, D.C. and grew up in New Jersey and San Diego. From an early age, Kadir spent much of his time drawing and painting. Both his uncle and his high school art teacher taught him important artistic principles and techniques, including how to paint with oils. After developing an impressive portfolio during high school, Kadir Nelson earned a partial scholarship to the prestigious Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York.
Nelson initially enrolled at Pratt as an architecture major because he had heard how hard it was to make ends meet as an artist. Yet during his freshman year, he took the risk and changed his major to illustration. Within weeks of graduation, Kadir Nelson began earning an income through art. He did freelance illustrations for Sports Illustrated magazine and was hired as a visual development artist for the 1997 movie Amistad. While working on Amistad, actress and choreographer Debbie Allen asked Nelson to illustrate a children's book she had written. In 1999 Nelson's illustrations were published in the picture book Brothers of the Knight.
Since his mid-20s, Kadir Nelson's artwork has been in high demand. Eddie Murphy, Queen Latifah, Denzel Washington, Shaquille O'Neal, and other celebrities have purchased his paintings. Nelson has also illustrated picture books by recognizable names like Will Smith and Spike Lee. In 2004 Nelson won a Coretta Scott King Illustration Award for Ellington was not a street. In 2007 and 2008 he received back-to-back Caldecott Honors for his illustrations in Moses and Henry's Freedom Box. In January 2008 Kadir Nelson's long-awaited book, We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball, was published. It is the first book that he has both written and illustrated.
Kadir Nelson currently lives in Los Angeles, California.