Littsburgh is thrilled to be able to share with you an interview with National Book Award-winning author Jacqueline Woodson by the youngest member of our literary roster, eleven-year-old Grace Randall. Grace has recently interviewed Kate DiCamillo, Rainbow Rowell, Gregory Maguire, Andrea Davis-Pinkney and Littsburgh’s Nick Courage. Check out her site, The Authors Among Us, for more!
“Somewhere in my brain
each laugh, tear and lullaby
(Brown Girl Dreaming, Jacqueline Woodson)
Memory is a curious thing. It reminds us of the people we were, the stories we’ve been told, and also of the people we can become. In the words of Jacqueline Woodson, whom I got a chance to meet with this past Sunday, “Memory comes to most people as these small moments with lots of white space around it.” Those white spaces are the points that make us think, the ones that make us ponder the reason why we forgot, or the bits that you might call up your cousin to ask if she remembers. Memory is the thing that inspires you to reflect, and that was the basis of Ms. Woodson’s memoir of her childhood told in verse called Brown Girl Dreaming.
Jacqueline Woodson’s memoir takes place in the 60s and 70s as she is growing up in both the southern United States, in South Carolina, and in the north, in Brooklyn, NY. She begins with the story of the day she was born, in Columbus, Ohio, and how she was named after her father, Jack. She includes a couple important historical events that were happening at the time, such as Martin Luther King Jr. planning the March on Washington. She tells how her parents split up, and how she moved with her mother to the south to live with her grandparents. There she learned about racism, and how having a different color skin was “wrong” in some places, but she also learned how to find strength in the people who do support you. Her mother wanted to move back up north, though, but during the Great Migration, it wasn’t easy, so she had to leave alone, under cover of darkness, to find someplace to settle. For a while, Jacqueline and her siblings lived alone with her grandparents. Later, her mother came back to take them to Brooklyn to begin a new life… with a new baby boy. “Jackie” moved to New York, began school, and met a Puerto Rican girl whom she became best friends with. From there, she begins to learn who she is, what she believes in, and what she wants to do with her life. In one of the last poems of the book, Ms. Woodson writes:
“I believe in johnny pumps and jump ropes,
Malcolm and Martin, Buckeyes and Birmingham,
writing and listening, bad words and good words-
I believe in Brooklyn!
I believe in one day and someday and this
perfect moment called Now.”
Memories of the past can have mixed effects on individuals. To some, they can be things that they want to leave behind. To others, they’re things that are catching up to them. Memories can also be seen as something from which we should learn and teach. Every day, you have experiences that you’ll never get to have again, and that’s something we should find inviting. Someday, you can tell someone about an occurrence that nobody else has had, and it can be so incredibly imperative that those unique experiences are shared, because you won’t always be around to tell those stories. As an answer to a question that I asked Ms. Woodson on Sunday that related to this, she replied saying that sharing stories, especially between generations, is important because “even though the years are dividing you, similar things happen to you both.” The older people in your life, whether they’re teachers, grandparents, parents, or neighbors are there to share their stories with you, to give advice, to guide you. We might not write a giant linear autobiography or a memoir told in poetry about our escapades, but we can pass on our memories nonetheless. We will all be these people, these storytellers someday, but first we must live our lives, so that we have tales to tell.
To learn more about Ms. Woodson and her books, visit www.jacquelinewoodson.com.
This piece reprinted here by permission of the author and The Authors Among Us.