by Rachel Pepper
An award-winning writer for young adults and children, Jacqueline Woodson is one of the most talented dyke writers we have today. Author of such celebrated books as If You Come Softly, The House You Pass on the Way, and The Dear One, Woodson is unafraid to tackle subjects such as child abuse, interracial relationships, and lesbianism in her books.
Most of her stories are told from the perspective of teenagers, and many of her main characters are young African-American girls. All of Woodson's stories are sensitively told, and she easily captures the hearts of her readers—many of whom find themselves reflected back from the pages of a novel for the very first time. Her books have struck a chord with readers world-wide, even while some libraries face them sometimes being 'banned' for their occasional 'controversial' subject matter.
Born in Columbus, Ohio, and a long-term New York City inhabitant, Woodson now resides with her partner Juliet, a medical resident, and three-year-old daughter Toshi, in their Brooklyn brownstone. Long-time fan and fellow writer Rachel Pepper caught up with Jackie recently for an interview.
RP: How would you describe your vision as a writer?
JW: I'd love to use literature as a means of changing the world—the way people think, see other people, act. I think writing is a powerful tool and I wake up hoping to do something to impact the greater good of this world.
RP: Where do you get the ideas for your books?
JW: I get my ideas from everywhere—stuff I see, read, hear, and think. They just come and I write them down. Nothing is ever based on a real person although there are parts of people I know or things I've experienced in the books sometimes. I'm not conscious that I'm doing it until years later. Sometimes kids ask me to put them in my books and maybe they'll appear on the dedication page or something. But usually if a kid or a friend asks me to write about them, I tell them I'll help them write their own stories. I don't want to tell another person's story—I think that's wrong.
RP: How many and what awards have you won for your writing?
JW: Probably close to 70—lots of state awards and library awards, two National Book Award Honors, three Coretta Scott King Honors and a Coretta Scott King Award, the LA Times Book Prize, a Parent's Magazine Parent's Choice Award, and various storytelling awards. This year, Miracle's Boys was chosen as the Baltimore Book, meaning every kid in Baltimore gets a copy of it to read—as do their parents. My newest is Reading Rainbow. They chose my book Visiting Day, which is about a girl who goes to visit her dad in prison to be the main part of an hour-long episode or the show.
RP: What are you working on at the moment?
JW: A book about a boy. That's all I know about it right now. I never outline, just let the story come. And the boy is about 12. Not sure if he's Black or white yet.
RP: You are listed in a book called Raising Lifelong Learners as a young adult author in the ranks of Lois Lowry, Walter Dean Myers and Paula Fox, among others. Congrats! How does this make you feel?
JW: It's amazing to be listed among some of my all-time favorite writers—writers who taught ME a lot. It's wild and surreal.
RP: Have you ever met with any publisher resistance or been 'banned' for the subject matter of your books?
JW: I'm a bit immune to the banning but know it's happening all over the place, given the topics I cover. But if I walk into a school library and none of my books are there—is it the librarian's aesthetic, economics, or censorship?—I don't know. But I've had some stuff with my publisher Scholastic in the past around From the Notebooks of Melanin Sun. People writing in complaining. I keep my head out of it though—I don't want to know about resistance—it only makes me sad for the kids who are being kept from reading.
RP: Why do you think parents, kids, and educators all love your books?
JW: I think they love the universality of them—how I can write about two girls in the south and kids in the city can relate. I think people respond also, to the questions I raise about the world. And I think people love good stories that make them think.
RP: I see that there is a new book out about you? How did that come about?
JW: I was interviewed a lot for it by a woman named Lois Stover. She was amazing and respectful and really sweet. I think my life is way too complicated for one book to hold the whole story though. I have a copy of the book but can't bring myself to read it—it's too scary. I can't get that kind of distance to read 'about me' that way.
RP: Is it true that Spike Lee is making a series based on your books?
JW: There will be a mini-series called Miracle's Boys that will air in February 2005 [ on The N, a programming arm of MTV networks ] and is based on my book of the same title. Spike is doing the first and last in the six-part series. Other directors ( Levar Burton, Ernest Dickerson, Bill Duke, etc. ) are doing the other shows. It's pretty much an all-star cast—Jorge Posada and Tiki Barber are playing coaches on a little league team. It's being filmed in Harlem and is the first Black drama for teens! So when I should be writing I'm hanging out on the set being blown away by it all. I get to sit in one of those high director's chairs and everything!! And people are really nice to me. It's been this really great thing to see all of these people of color working on it—I mean the cast, the crew, it's great. They're gonna do this big screening at the Apollo. Probably with some of that red carpet!
Woodson on N Network
Here are details on the film based on Woodson's book.
The N, the nighttime network for teens, will premiere Miracle's Boys, the network's first-ever dramatic mini-series, that centers around three half-Puerto Rican, half-African-American, orphaned teenage brothers living in Harlem and their struggle to hold their family together. The mini-series, which was shot entirely on location in Harlem, will premiere in three, hour-long installments on The N during Black History Month. Miracle's Boys ( Part 1 ) will premiere on Friday, Feb. 18, with Parts II and III premiering that same weekend on Saturday, Feb. 19 and Sunday, Feb. 20.
Miracle's Boys was directed by Spike Lee, LeVar Burton, Bill Duke, Ernest Dickerson and Neema Barnette. In addition, the Miracle's Boys theme song was written and performed by musician/rapper Nas. The three-part mini-series also features appearances by NY Yankees' All-Star catcher Jorge Posada and NY Giants' running back Tiki Barber who play baseball coaches of the Harlem Teen
League. See www.mtv.com .