Celebrated author Jacqueline Woodson shared some of her many stories with residents of all ages from Bexley and beyond on December 1, when the 2014 National Book Award winner spent a day here as Bexley Community Book Club’s ninth Selected Author. During the school day, Woodson addressed three packed student assemblies—over 1,500 students—and moved adroitly from talking with middle schoolers about how they can effect social change to reciting long passages from her books from memory to showing Kindergarteners how they can “read the pictures” when they can’t yet read the words.
In the evening, Woodson gave a free public presentation, appearing onstage in conversation with poet and former public radio host Fred Andrle. Andrle probed the two-time National Book Award finalist on topics that ranged from how she first learned to write, through memories of her South Carolina childhood, to what role she wants her writing to play in the world.
Woodson, who was born in Columbus and grew up in Greenville, SC, writes about characters of a variety of races, ethnicities, and social classes. Woodson’s books feature strong female characters and she often writes about friendship between girls. A four-time Newbery Honor medalist and the winner of the 2014 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, Woodson was the Poetry Foundation’s Young People’s Poet Laureate for 2015. She has published 32 books, including her 2016 novel for adults, Another Brooklyn.
Bexley Middle School students had read Woodson’s 2014 memoir in verse, Brown Girl Dreaming, which recounts her childhood in the segregated south as well as her teenage years in Brooklyn and the joy she discovered in writing.
The students submitted questions in advance. “Do you personally listen to Tupac?” she read, drawing a question from the basket. “Yup. I love Tupac. I have the craziest playlist. Don’t even ask me what’s on it.”
“What do you think we as a generation can do to stop racial injustice from happening?” read another question. “Make some friends from a different race and actually have a conversation with them,” she responded. “A lot of people of all races live in very homogeneous communities. Part of the work to begin breaking down those boundaries is to actually engage across those boundaries, intimately.”
“I’m excited about kids who are your age,” she told the students. “You guys are the ones who have the power to change the world. I can relax a little because I know you guys have got this and you’ll do the right thing.”
Some details from the “Kindness Quilt” made by Maryland Elementary students in response to Woodson’s book Each Kindness: