Jacqueline Woodson (b. 12 February 1963, in Columbus, Ohio) is an American author who writes books targeted at children and adolescents. She is best known for 'Miracle's Boys' which won the Coretta Scott King Award in 2001 and her Newbery Honor titles 'After Tupac & D Foster', 'Feathers' and 'Show Way'. Her work is filled with strong African American themes, generally aimed at a young adult audience. She is an openly Lesbian woman with a lifelong partner and two children, a daughter named Toshi Georgianna and a son named Jackson-Leroi. ref name=glbtq>
Jacqueline Amanda Woodson was born to Jack and Mary Ann Woodson on February 12, 1963. Although she was born in Columbus, Ohio she and her younger brother, who is biracial, grew up moving back and forth between South Carolina and Brooklyn, NY between 1968 and 1973 until her grandmother finally settled in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn. Her mother was not wealthy, but her grandparents were, she felt the economic differences each time she moved from one location to the other. She never felt that she truly belonged in either location, but began to define herself as "outside of the world" even before she reached her teens.
As is the case for many teens, her high school years were confusing. Although she dated a basketball player and had a clique of girls she belonged to, her sexuality was not conforming to the ideas of many of her classmates and she found herself questioning everything. Her political views were crushed when Nixon resigned and Ford was sworn in. The young writer felt that George McGovern should have been the new president, since he had lost the election to Nixon. When teachers couldn't give her acceptable answers to her questions she became a loner, sullen and looking for an outlet for her frustrations. She spent a lot of her time writing poems and songs that expressed her social and political disenchantment. idk
Her college education includes receiving a B.A. in English from Adelphi University in 1985 and studying creative writing at New School for Social Research (now New School University).
Woodson and her partner have known each other since they were young girls. In 2006 Woodson gave birth to a daughter, Toshi Georgianna. The child is named after her godmother, Toshi Seeger, and Woodson's grandmother, Georgianna. She also has a son named Jackson-Leroi.
In addition to her writing, Woodson has also worked as a writing professor at Goddard College, Eugene Lang College, Vermont College as well as a Writer-in-residence for the National Book Foundation. She has also held positions as an editorial assistant and a drama therapist for runaway children in New York, NY.
She lives in Brooklyn, New York in a racially diverse neighborhood.
After college Woodson went to work for Kirchoff/Wohlberg, a children's packaging company. She helped to write the California standardized reading tests and caught the attention of a Liza Pulitzer-Voges, a children's book agent at the same company. Although the partnership didn't work out, it did get her first manuscript out of a drawer. She then enrolled in Bunny Gable's children's book writing class at the New School where Bebe Willoughby, an editor at Delacorte heard a reading from Last Summer with Maizon and requested the manuscript. Delacorte bought the manuscript, but Willoughby left the company before editing it and so Wendy Lamb took over and saw Woodson's first six books published.
Inspirations and Relationships
Woodson's youth was split between South Carolina and Brooklyn. In her interview with Jennifer M. Brown she remembered, "The South was so lush and so slow-moving and so much about community. The city was thriving and fast-moving and electric. Brooklyn was so much more diverse: on the block where I grew up, there were German people, people from the Dominican Republic, people from Puerto Rico, African-Americans from the South, Caribbean-Americans, Asians."
When asked to name her literary influences in an interview with journalist Hazel Rochman, Woodson responded, "Two major writers for me are James Baldwin and Virginia Hamilton. It blew me away to find out Virginia Hamilton was a sister like me. Later, Nikki Giovanni had a similar effect on me. I feel that I learned how to write from Baldwin. He was onto some future stuff, writing about race and gender long before people were comfortable with those dialogues. He would cross class lines all over the place, and each of his characters was remarkably believable. I still pull him down from my shelf when I feel stuck."
Other early influences included Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye and Sula, and the work of Rosa Guy as well as her high school English teacher, Mr. Miller. Louise Meriwether was also named.
Jacqueline Woodson has, in turn, influenced many other writers, including An Na, who credits her as being her first writing teacher. She also teaches teens at the National Book Foundation's summer writing camp where she co-edits the annual anthology of their combined work.
As an author, Woodson is known for the detailed physical landscapes she writes into each of her books. She places boundaries everywhere—social, economic, physical, sexual, racial—then has her characters break through both the physical and pychological boundaries to create a strong and emotional story.
She is also known for her optimism. She has said that she dislikes books that do not offer hope. She has offered the novel Sounder as and example of a 'bleak' and 'hopeless' novel. On the other hand, she enjoyed A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Even though the family was exceptionally poor, the characters experienced "moments of hope and sheer beauty". She uses this philosophy in her own writing, saying, "If you love the people you create, you can see the hope there."
As a writer she consciously writes for a younger audience. There are authors who write about adolescence or from a youths point of view, but their work is intended for adult audiences. Woodson writes about childhood and adolescence with an audience of youth in mind. In an interview on National Public Radio she said, "I'm writing about adolescents for adolescents. And I think the main difference is when you're writing to a particular age group, especially a younger age group, you're ... the writing can't be as implicit. You're more in the moment. They don't have the adult experience from which to look back. So you're in the moment of being an adolescent...and the immediacy and the urgency is very much on the page, because that's what it feels like to be an adolescent. Everything is so important, so big, so traumatic. And all of that has to be in place for them."
Some reviewers have labeled Woodson's writings as "issue-related", but she believes that her books address universal questions. She has tackled subjects that were not commonly discussed when her books were published, including interracial couples, teenage pregnancy and homosexuality. She often does this with sympathetic characters put into realistic situations. Woodson states that her interests lie in exploring many different perspectives through her writings, not in forcing her views onto others.
Woodson has several themes that appear in many of her novels. She explores issues of gender, class and race as well as family and history. She is known for using these common themes in ground-breaking ways. While many of her characters are given labels that make them 'invisible' to society, Woodson is most often writing about their search for self rather than a search for equality or social justice.
Only The Notebooks of Melanin Sun, Miracle's Boys and Locomotion are written from a male perspective. The rest of Woodson's works feature female narrators. However, her 2009 short story, "Trev," published in Twelve Stories of Identity, features a transsexual narrator.
African American Society and History
In her 2003 novel, Coming on Home Soon, she explores both race and gender within the historical context of World War II.
The Other Side is a poetic look at race through two young girls, one black and one white, who sit on either side of the fence which separates their world.
The Dear One is notable in that it deals with the differences between rich and poor within the black community.
The House You Pass on the Way is a novel which touches on gay identity through the main characters of Staggerlee.
In The Dear One Woodson introduces a strongly committed lesbian relationship between Marion and Bernadette. She then contrasts it to the broken straight family which results in a teenager from Harlem named Rebecca moving in with them and their twelve-year-old daughter, Feni.
"Death happens," Woodson told Samiya A. Bashir in Black Issues Book Review. "Sexual abuse happens. Parents leave. These things happen every day and people think that if they don't talk about it, then it will just go away. But that's what makes it spread like the plague it is. People say that they're censoring in the guise of protecting children, but if they'd open their eyes they'd see that kids are exposed to this stuff every day, and we need a venue by which to talk to them about it and start a dialogue. My writing comes from this place, of wanting to change the world. I feel like young people are the most open."
Last Summer with Maizon, Woodson's first book was praised by critics for creating positive female characters and the touching portrayal of the close eleven year-old friends. Reviewers also commented on its convincing sense of place and vivid character relationships. The next two books in the trilogy, Maizon at Blue Hill and Between Madison and Palmetto, were also well received for their realistic characters and strong writing style. The issues of self-esteem and identity are addressed throughout the three books. A few reviewers felt that there was a slight lack of focus as the trilogy touched lightly and quickly on too many different problems in too few pages. The issues of self-esteem and identity are addressed throughout the three books.
Some of the topic covered in Woodson's books raise flags for many censors. Homosexuality, child abuse, harsh language and other content have led to issues with censorship. In an interview on NPR Woodson said that she uses very few curse words in her books and that the issues adults have with her subject matter say more about what they are uncomfortable with than it does what their students should be thinking about. She suggests that people look at the various outside influences teens have access today, then compare that to the subject matter in her books.