If you know Jacqueline Woodson’s books, you love Jacqueline Woodson’s books. Her use of words to give birth to completely authentic characters puts me in awe. She’s written picture books, middle grade novels and YA. She’s won too many awards to name. Tomorrow, she’s speaking about her latest novel, “Brown Girl Dreaming,” a memoir in verse about her childhood, at a college in my area. Because of that, I had the incredible fortune of interviewing her for an article for my newspaper, and now I’m posting the full text of the interview below.
Woodson (who I really want to refer to as J. Wood, like J. Law, but I don’t know that that’s a thing) is on the board for the We Need Diverse Books campaign, which if you don’t already know about, you need to go check out now. Actually, you should read this interview, and then go check it out.
KN: What does diversity in children’s literature mean? Why is it so important?
JW: It means all kinds of books being available for all kinds of children. It’s important because children need to see reflections of themselves as well as representations of other kinds of people in literature. This helps this not only feel like they’re a legitimate part of society (not invisible) but also helps them understand the bigger world and the greater good and begin to learn empathy, tolerance, understanding, etc.
KN: Did the outpouring of support for the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign this year surprise you?
JW: I was very happy by the response but not surprised. People have been saying this for a long time — It’s great that other people are beginning to hear it.
KN: A Publisher’s Weekly article about the diverse books panel at BookCon quoted you as as saying publishers pigeonhole and promote books as “issue-related” or “about a black kid” or “about a gay kid,” and that we need to talk differently about books. How do you describe your books?
JW: My books are about people. People who are trying to figure out who they are becoming, where they’re going and how they’re going to get there.
KN: Whether it’s a little girl who’s sick of hearing about “that ding-dang baby” sibling on the way or a teenager addicted to meth, you do an incredible job developing your characters’ distinct voices. How do you get into their heads?
JW: I start with their hearts — I believe even though so much of us is different — skin color, economic class, family make up, etc – -In our hearts, we all long for the same thing — to love, to be loved.