de Grummond Children's Literature Collection
The University of Southern Mississippi

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Creator: John Steptoe
Title: John Steptoe Papers
Dates: ca. 1967-1997
Dates: [bulk ca. 1967-1970]
Quantity: .60 cubic feet (1 box)
Identification: DG1168

Abstract: John Steptoe, one of the first prolific authors to write and illustrate books specifically for black children, created urban landscapes in words and pictures. In his twenty-year career, he illustrated sixteen books, ten of which he also wrote. Two books were named Caldecott Honor Books and two won the Coretta Scott King Award for illustration. The John Steptoe Papers consist of a high school art class illustration, hand decorated letters and Christmas card, and an obituary.

Biographical Note

John Lewis Steptoe, creator of award-winning books for children, was born in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, New York, in 1950. As a child, people considered him unusual because he liked to stay home and draw. He attended the High School of Art and Design in New York City where he studied with illustrator Burmah Burris, who donated these papers to the de Grummond Collection. Three months before the end of his senior year, Steptoe quit school and soon submitted illustrations to Harper Junior Books, where an editor suggested he write a book to compliment his drawings.

In 1970, Steptoe published his first picture book, Stevie, which he wrote when he was in his late teens. The book earned Steptoe national attention and a Gold Medal from the Society of Illustrators. The medal was the first in a long list of awards for him. In his twenty-year career, Steptoe illustrated sixteen books, ten of which he also wrote. Two of them, The Story of Jumping Mouse and Mufaro's Beautiful Daughters, were named Caldecott Honor Books. He twice received the Coretta Scott King Award for Illustration, for Mother Crocodile and Mufaro's Beautiful Daughters.

Many of Steptoe's works have been praised for both realistically portraying black life and having universal themes that appeal to children of all races. Steptoe was especially concerned about reaching black children because he thought that there was a "great and disastrous need for books that black children could honestly relate to . . . [and] I was amazed that no one had successfully written a book in the dialogue black children speak."

John Steptoe died of complications from AIDS in 1989, at the age of 39. His son, Javaka Steptoe, has followed in his footsteps and become a children's book illustrator.

Major Authors and Illustrators, pp. 2209 - 11
Fourth Book of Junior Authors, pp. 321-22
Compiled from sources within the John Steptoe Papers

Scope and Content Note

The John Steptoe Papers contain a block print illustration, letters Steptoe sent to his high school art teacher, and an obituary from The New York Times. The material is organized into three series: illustration, letters sent, and other material

The item in the illustration series is a large block print of two boys peering through a wrought iron fence. The illustration was a 1967 project for Steptoe's junior class in illustration at the High School of Art and Design in New York City.

The letters sent series contains letters sent from Steptoe and his wife to their high school art teacher, Burmah Burris, between 1967 and 1970. One letter gives Steptoe's explanation of why he quit high school. Another announces the birth of daughter Bweela. Especially interesting are two hand decorated letters and a block print Christmas card.

The series of other material contains a photocopied book flap from Stevie, a clipping of Steptoe's obituary from the 1 September 1989 edition of The New York Times, and letters sent to the de Grummond Collection by Burmah Burris and the Estate of John Steptoe.

Series and Subseries

A. Illustration (1967)
B. Letters Sent (ca. 1967 - 1970)
C. Other Material (1970 - 1997)


Restrictions on Use

Noncirculating; available for research.

Copyright Restrictions

The collection is protected by the Copyright Law of the United States (Title 17, U.S. Code). Reproductions can be made only if they are to be used for "private study, scholarship, or research." It is the user's responsibility to verify copyright ownership and to obtain all necessary permissions prior to the reproduction, publication, or other use of any portion of these materials, other than that noted above.

Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

(Identify the item and cite the series), John Steptoe Papers, de Grummond Children's Literature Collection, University of Southern Mississippi Libraries.


These papers were donated to the de Grummond Children's Literature Collection of the University of Southern Mississippi Libraries by Burmah Burris in January 1998.

Processing Information

Processed by C. Alder, November 2001. Encoded into EAD Version 1.0 by Danielle L. Bishop. This finding aid is the product of a grant funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Container Listing



Illustration (1967)

1/1 Original block print illustration from high school art class
1/2Copy of block print illustration from high school art class


Letters Sent (ca. 1967 - 1970)

1/3Letter sent from John Steptoe to Burmah Burris, regarding his decision to leave high school, [ca. 1967]
1/4Letter sent from John Steptoe to Burmah Burris, discussing his work for Harpers, 14 August 1967
1/5 Handmade decorative letter and envelope sent from John Steptoe to Burmah Burris, regarding the birth of daughter Bweela, 27 May 1970
1/6Decorative letter sent from Stephanie Steptoe (wife of John Steptoe) to Burmah Burris, 4 June 1970, with decorative envelope
1/7 Handmade block print Christmas card sent from John Steptoe to Burmah Burris, no date, 2 items


Other Material

1/8Photocopy of Stevie book flap
1/9Clipping of John Steptoe's obituary, New York Times, 1 September 1989
1/10Letters sent to the de Grummond Collection by Burmah Burris and John Steptoe Estate, 1995 - 1997, (6 items)





The de Grummond Children's Literature Collection

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