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Synthia Saint James (1949-) Biography

Personal, Career, Honors Awards, Writings, Sidelights

Born 1949, in Los Angeles, CA. Education: Attended Los Angeles Valley College, Dutchess Community College (Poughkeepsie, NY), and Inner City Cultural Center (Los Angeles, CA).


Artist, 1969—; Former certified tax practitioner; Atelier Saint James (print publisher), Los Angeles, CA, owner. Has worked as an actress, freelance writer, publicist, and accountant. Exhibitions: Works exhibited at solo shows in New York, NY, Charlotte, NC, Salt Lake City, UT, Los Angeles, Pasadena, Burbank, Westwood, and Santa Barbara, CA; works exhibited at group shows in Paris, France, Seoul, South Korea, Quebec, Canada, New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Washington, DC. Works commissioned by major organizations and corporations, including House of Seagram, National Bar Association, Essence Magazine, Kayser-Roth/Maybelline, AT&T Alliance of Black Employees, Children's Institute International, UNICEF, Mark Taper Forum, South State Cooperative Library System, Los Angeles Public Library, and Los Angeles Cultural Affairs Department.

Honors Awards

Prix de Paris, 1980; Gentlemen Concerned Service Award, 1995; UNICEF Greeting Card Artist Award, 1995; Parent's Choice Silver Honor, 1996, for Sunday; Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor, 1996, for Neeny Coming, Neeny Going; YWCA Silver Achievement

Synthia Saint James

Award in the Creative Arts; Treasure of Los Angeles Award; AT&T Entrepreneur of the Year/NAACP Black Women of Achievement honor; Women of Vision Award from Black Women Lawyers; NAPPA Gold Award, 1999, for "Happy Happy Kwanzaa" (song); Oppenheim Gold Award, 2001, for To Dinner, for Dinner.



The Gifts of Kwanzaa, Albert Whitman (Morton Grove, IL), 1994.

Sunday, Albert Whitman (Morton Grove, IL), 1996.

Girlfriends, Peter Pauper Press (White Plains, NY), 1997.

Can I Touch You: Love Poems and Affirmations, Music Quest (Newark, NJ), 1997.

Creative Fixings from the Kitchen: Favorite Multi-Cultural Recipes, Persnickety Press (Port Chester, NY), 1998.

It's Kwanzaa Time!: A Lift-the-Flap Story, Little Simon (New York, NY), 2001.


Phyllis Gershator, adaptor, Tukama Tootles the Flute: A Tale from St. Thomas, Orchard Books (New York, NY), 1994.

Cheryl Chapman, Snow on Snow on Snow, Dial Books (New York, NY), 1994.

Marcia K. Vaughan, Tingo Tango Mango Tree, Silver, Burdett & Ginn, 1994.

Walter Dean Myers, How Mr. Monkey Saw the Whole World, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1996.

Karen English, Neeny Coming, Neeny Going, BridgeWater Books (Mahwah, NJ), 1996.

Johnson, Mother's Love, Peter Pauper Press (White Plains, NY), 1997.

Phillis and David Gershator, Greetings, Sun, DK Ink (New York, NY), 1998.

Ysaye M. Barnwell, No Mirrors in My Nana's House, Harcourt Brace (San Diego, CA), 1998.

Sherley Anne Williams, Girls Together, Harcourt Brace (San Diego, CA), 1999.

Tololwa M. Mollel, To Dinner, for Dinner, Holiday House (New York, NY), 2000.

W. Nikola-Lisa, Hallelujah!: A Christmas Celebration, Atheneum (New York, NY), 2000.

Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve, Enduring Wisdom: Sayings from Native Americans, Holiday House (New York, NY), 2003.

Illustrator of book covers, including Waiting to Exhale by Terry McMillan and children's books by Angela Shelf Medearis, Angela Johnson, and Barbara Ann Porte. Creator of designs appearing on over eighty greeting cards, including several for UNICEF, as well as licensed images appearing on T-shirts, magnets, boxes, gift bags, deck cards, puzzles, calendars, and mugs.


Author and illustrator Synthia Saint James seeks to inspire readers and viewers with her highly acclaimed art. Drawing on her cultural heritage and developing an unmistakably unique style that defies common technical rules and is emboldened by her use of brilliant colors, Saint James has been praised by critics for her ability to express her personal passion for life and accurately portray the celebration and beauty of life in all its glory. Among the many books that she has illustrated are It's Kwanzaa Time!, which she also authored, and No Mirrors in My Nana's House, written by a capella vocalist Ysaye M. Barnwell. The illustrations in each of Saint James's books speaks to cultural pride and individuality, both characteristics the author/illustrator adamantly defends.

Created for pre-readers, It's Kwanzaa Time!: A Lift-the-Flap Story showcases Saint James' illustrations in a collage-like lift-the-flap book. With one or two sentences per page, youngsters are enticed to uncover the principals that make up the seven days of Kwanzaa. Behind the little flaps are structural feats that signify accomplishment, and people rejoicing. The illustrations, simple and flat but enlivened with color, highlight a book that a School Library Journal contributor recommended as an "attractive teaching tool to introduce the concepts [of Kwanzaa] to young audiences."

In No Mirrors in My Nana's House, a young black girl looks closely into the world that surrounds her every day and discovers beauty there as well as in herself. Illustrating the inspiration of this girl, Saint James enhances Barnwell's text with acrylic paintings that resemble collage, creating what Booklist reviewer Ilene Cooper praised as a "wonderfully eye-catching mix." While a Publishers Weekly critic maintained that "Younger readers may wish for more visual expressiveness than the abstracted bodies can muster," but a Skipping Stones contributor praised No Mirrors in My Nana's House as "Beautifully illustrated." In another picture book, Walter Dean Myers' How Mr. Monkey Saw the Whole World, Horn Book contributor Ellen Fader enthusiastically cited Saint James' contribution to the book, writing that her "vibrant minimalist illustrations in her trademark neon bright colors bring the story to life."

Saint James told SATA: "One of the most beautiful things about painting is the actual sharing of the artwork visually with others, and what a pleasure it is now to be sharing more closely with children by way of children's picture books. The process of creating the images to bring the words to life is amazing in itself, and quite a task—but very rewarding once the challenge is met."

Biographical and Critical Sources


Contemporary Black Biography, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1996.


American Visions, October-November, 1992, pp. 34-36.

Black Issues Book Review, November-December, 2001, Olivia Harrington, review of It's Kwanzaa Time!, p. 76.

Booklist, September 15, 1998, Ilene Cooper, review of No Mirrors in My Nana's House, p. 234; February 15, 2001, Henrietta M. Smith, review of Sunday, p. 1161.

Caribe News, March 7, 1995.

Charlotte Observer, February 14, 1993, pp. 1F, 2F.

Essence, January, 1995, p. 97.

Horn Book, July-August, 1996, Ellen Fader, review of How Mr. Monkey Saw the Whole World, p. 452.

Publishers Weekly, August 8, 1994; September 19, 1994; July 27, 1998, review of No Mirrors in My Nana's House, p. 77; September 24, 2001, review of It's Kwanzaa Time!, p. 48.

School Library Journal, October, 1994; January, 1997, Barbara Osborne Williams, review of Sunday, p. 90; October, 2001, review of It's Kwanzaa Time!, p. 69.

Skipping Stones, September-October, 1998, review of No Mirrors in My Nana's House, p. 32.

U.S. Art, January-February, 1993.

Vibe, June, 1995.


Synthia Saint James Home Page, http://www.synthiasaintjames.com/ (February 6, 2004).

Additional topics

Brief BiographiesBiographies: Dan Jacobson Biography - Dan Jacobson comments: to Barbara Knutson (1959–2005) Biography - Personal