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The Mother of Multicultural Literature


Through her tireless research and work as a professor of education at Ohio State, Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop advocated for the importance of representation and diversity in children books, becoming known as the "Mother of Multicultural Literature".

"Books are sometimes windows, offering views of worlds that may be real or imagined, familiar or strange."

Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop
Professor Emerita, College of Education and Human Ecology

When she was Professor of Education at the College of Education and Human Ecology, from 1986 to 2002, Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop could have walked to campus from her house. But she always had so many books to carry. “I read them to my graduate students,” she said. “Picture books. The whole thing in one sitting.”

Soft-spoken, erudite and unassuming, Dr. Bishop has a loyal following among educators, researchers and graduate students. Her scholarship focused on the need for Black children to see themselves in the books they read. It brought her and the university international acclaim, and made Dr. Bishop a treasure in her own right.

“We call her the mother of multicultural literature,” said Ruth Lowery, associate chair of the Department of Teaching of Learning. “If you’re my doctoral student, you have got to read (Bishop’s) Shadow and Substance to understand where multicultural literature came from.”

Black artists’ work is an integral part of the scholarship Dr. Bishop introduced 40 years ago. Books like theirs were in short supply when she was growing up in the anthracite coal country of Pottsville, Pennsylvania.

“I spent a lot of time in the public library when I was a child,” she said. “I didn't find myself in those books.” As a young researcher at Wayne State University in the late 1970s, she began looking at representation of Black people in children’s literature. Her book, Shadow and Substance, established a framework for analyzing literature about people of color, and remains a standard in the field.

“Books,” Dr. Bishop wrote, “are sometimes windows, offering views of worlds that may be real or imagined, familiar or strange. These windows are also sliding glass doors, and readers have only to walk through in imagination to become part of whatever world has been created and recreated by the author.”

At Ohio State in the 1990s, Dr. Bishop promoted literature as a tool of self-affirmation for all children. In 2017, she received the Coretta Scott King-Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime Achievement.

In contemporary books, she looks for the seeds of self-reflection her scholarship calls for, and has found something she rarely saw when she began her studies: stories that represent a variety of cultures, faiths, families and perspectives. “I am hopeful,” she said, “because of the numbers and because of the quality and the fact that there are some really fine writers who are coming up.”