4 Questions for National Book Award Winner Jacqueline Woodson at Drew
Her Brown Girl Dreaming won the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature in 2014.
March 2017 – Renowned author Jacqueline Woodson read from her books and answered questions about writing at Drew University.
The visit, part of the Writers@Drewreading series, was sponsored by the Women’s and Gender Studies program, the English department, the Casement Fund and the Women’s Studies Visiting Scholar Fund. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the start of Women’s and Gender Studies.
After her reading, Woodson, the author of more than 30 books—including Brown Girl Dreaming, which won the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature in 2014, and Another Brooklyn, a National Book Award nominee—took questions from students and professors. Here are the four most intriguing questions.
Is a lot of your writing autobiographical?
“It’s emotionally autobiographical, but not necessarily physically. So, when a character is really sad, I mine sadness that I remember—the anger, frustration, all of that. I mine those emotions, but not necessarily the physical stuff.”
Even if a piece is not autobiographical, are you ever afraid of revealing too much?
“No. I mean, what’s at stake? What do we have to lose? No one’s going to hang you because you told a certain story. And if your family decides to disown you for something you wrote, they never loved you. So that kind of thing hanging over your head—that you might make someone angry—chances are, the people you’re most afraid of reading your stuff aren’t going to read your stuff.”
You interviewed several family members when you were writing Brown Girl Dreaming. Does a consistent family history exist?
“The thing about a memoir is, it’s your memory of the thing. This is my memory of the stories my relatives told me. This is my memory of what I experienced as a child. I have two brothers and a sister. They’ll all have a different story, and of course they will, because they’re different ages. What I remember at 5, they remember differently at 10 because they had a different context.”
What are you working on now?
“I just finished a picture book. I’m working on an adult book that’s nonfiction. I’ve written a couple of articles for the Times, and I’m going to Germany tomorrow. I have to write a poem for a versfest that I’m in.”