Matthew Cordell ‘97

Name: Matthew Cordell '97
Residence: Chicago, Illinois
Degree: Graphic Design
Occupation: Author and illustrator of books for young readers

The renewed popularity of famed television personality Fred Rogers shows no signs of slowing.

In 2018, Matthew Cordell '97 announced that he would be writing and illustrating a picture book biography of Mister Rogers, one of his personal heroes. In May, Cordell will share "Hello, Neighbor!" with readers across the world to honor the man and the legendary show, "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood." The award-winning illustrator shared on Twitter the first copies of the book published by Holiday House Publishing. Read a review of the book.

To celebrate Fred Rogers' birthday on March 20, Cordell conducted a Instagram takeover of Fred Rogers Productions and posted exciting making-of and behind-the-scenes content about "Hello, Neighbor!"

Cordell's love of Mister Rogers is an example of his fondness of family, storytelling and art; all things that drive his creative inspiration. The former graphic designer discovered his interest in writing and designing books for children not too long after graduating from Winthrop in 1997. Initially he moved to Chicago, Illinois, to work as a graphic designer and fine artist. He became dissatisfied with both creative endeavors. Around that time, he met his future wife, Julie, a writer and librarian, who introduced him again to children's books – a genre of books he hadn't read since he was a child.

“I was hooked on the design, illustration and writing possibilities. I was also fascinated by a whole new audience for my art — an audience of families and children,” Cordell said.

He spent several years still in the design business and dedicated his spare time to making children's books, building his portfolio and developing business relationships.

Eventually, he took a leap and became a freelance book artist with guidance from an invaluable literary agent.

“I continued to take steps forward in my career with each passing year,” said the father of two young children.

In 2018, Cordell was awarded the Caldecott Medal, the most prestigious award in children's book illustration, for "Wolf in the Snow." The recognition opened a number of doors for him, including multiple book deals and opportunities to travel and share his work.

Cordell said Winthrop prepared him to be ready for such opportunities.

“Winthrop set me up with the many strengths I would need to make it as a working artist. Winthrop gave me a strong understanding of the principles of art and design. Winthrop prepared me for the uncertainty that the open world can bring, particularly as an artist,” he said. “Winthrop gave me the encouragement, drive, determination and self-motivation that I needed to make it to where I am today.”

Cordell said he discovered Winthrop from a high school friend in Simpsonville, South Carolina. He drove to Rock Hill during his senior year of high school, visited a couple of art classes and met with faculty from the art department.

“And with that, I knew that Winthrop was the right place for me,” Cordell said. He was inspired by the late Paul Martyka and said Winthrop taught him to see and experience the world beyond the small world that he grew up in. Cordell said he learned the value of engaging with different types of people and learning about their experiences.

He was invited back to Winthrop to participate in an illustration show at Rutledge Galleries and to speak to students. The experience was rewarding. “It was a wonderful and surprisingly emotional experience to revisit many old classroom buildings and teachers and friends,” he said.

Follow Cordell via Instagram @cordell_matthew and via Twitter/Facebook @cordellmatthew.