Arnold Adoff, age 85, died peacefully at home after a brief illness, with his loving
family by his side as he left this world and moved on to the next.
Arnold was born in the South Bronx in New York City on a hot summer day, July
16th, 1935 to Jewish Russian/Polish immigrants, Bookkeeper Rebecca and
Pharmacist Jacob Adoff. Education was incredibly important to Arnold’s parents.
Arnold applied and was accepted to the prestigious Stuyvesant High School in
New York City, where he excelled and succeeded so much so that he was
entrusted with the school’s keys. This was the first time that this honor was given
to any student and Arnold was often found studying in the building before
sunrise. After Arnold graduated he followed in his father’s footsteps and attended
Columbia University’s Pharmacy College. It soon became clear that becoming a
pharmacist was not the path Arnold should take. He transferred to New York’s
City College and graduated with a BS in History and Literature. He went on to
pursue a Master’s in History at Columbia University.
Arnold realized at the tender age of 11 that girls liked boys that wrote poems. He
also discovered that he had a talent for it. This would serve him well when, at a
party in New York City in 1958, he met the love of his life and future wife, Virginia
Hamilton. Arnold and Virginia would marry in 1960 and go on to have two
children – a daughter Leigh, and a son, Jaime. They were happily married and
devoted to each other until Virginia’s untimely death at the age of 67 in 2002.
Arnold would become one of the most internationally recognized poets of
children’s literature and anthologists of poetry, specifically poetry written by
people of color (POC) Long before anyone heard the term, POC or
multiculturalism in children’s and adult literature, Arnold was anthologizing poetry
of Native Americans, African Americans, Latino and Asian Americans.
Arnold wrote over 30 books in his career- the most groundbreaking being Black
is Brown is Tan. This was the first book written and published with an interracial
family as the protagonists. He won countless awards including the Children’s
Book of the year citation for I am the Darker Brother, the American Library
Association’s best book for young adult citation award for Slow Dance
Heartbreak Blues, best children’s book award, School Library Journal for both It
is the Poem Singing into your Eyes and Black is Brown is Tan. In 1988, Arnold
won the prestigious NCTE (National Council of Teachers of English) award for
Excellence in Poetry for Children.
Arnold worked closely with his wife, Virginia, on every manuscript she wrote. He
negotiated all her contracts and was an integral part of her success. They wrote
over 70 books combined in their careers and helped to change the face of
children’s literature. For this, Arnold was incredibly proud.
Arnold was always an active advocate for social justice and was a force and
presence on social media – especially available for heated discourse with
anyone who would like to participate. If you chose to do so, you would find out
very quickly you had met your match. There really wasn’t much that Arnold
couldn’t talk deeply about. Always a student of history, he could discuss
basically any subject with a thoroughness that was very rarely rivaled. He loved
being a mentor to aspiring writers as well, happily sharing his decades worth of
knowledge, advice and wisdom to the next generation.
Arnold was a lover of all types of music and literature but was a true jazz buff at
heart. That doesn’t really describe his knowledge and experience in American
jazz, having seen almost every great jazz performer America has produced. He
loved to talk about the times in the Village in the 50’s where one could see Sarah
Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald, of course the great Charles Mingus (who he managed
for a short time), and John Coltrane, just to name a few. He knew them all well
and could describe in great detail what it was like hearing them all perform live.
Arnold was a devoted and doting father and grandfather, having gone to every
soccer and little league game, track meet, rock and roll show, opera performance
and anything else involving his children or that his grandchild, Anaya, might be
participating in. He supported them unfailingly in everything that they chose to
do. He used to tease that Virginia kidnapped him to the cornfields. But truth be
told, he loved his adopted hometown of Yellow Springs. He enjoyed growing
tomatoes in his huge garden and then in later years, when he was a bit less
mobile, would grow them in large pots on the driveway of the beloved home in
Arnold is survived by his two children, Jaime (Cheryl) of Yellow Springs and
Leigh (Jörg) of Berlin Germany; granddaughter Anaya of Kettering; Brother Steve
(Luigina) of Missoula; countless nieces and nephews as well as loving friends on
both sides of the pond.
Arnold touched so many lives for decades and his bright, shining light will be
sorely missed by all.
There will be a gathering of friends and family on Friday, May 14th from 6-8 PM as
well as a Celebration of Life service on Saturday, May 15th at 11 AM. Both will
take place at the Jackson, Lytle and Lewis funeral home on Xenia Avenue in
Yellow Springs. Saturday’s service will be livestreamed on the funeral home’s
Facebook page - www.facebook.com/JacksonLytleLewisLifeCelebrationCenter.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to Ohio’s Hospice of Dayton.