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Letter to the Editor from Lydia Gagliano, July/August 2015

July/August 2015 Horn Book MagazineJuly/August 2015 Horn Book

Regarding Jacqueline Woodson’s Coretta Scott King Author Award acceptance speech: I’m not at all certain why Ms. Woodson thought it important to label the young reporter who interviewed her at the Hudson Children’s Book Festival as “white.” She then follows this with a bit of mind-reading, saying she knew “the answer [the reporter] would give was not the answer I wanted to hear.” I have to say that this put-down seemed presumptuous at best, and, to be honest, cruel (considering that Ms. Woodson engineered the awkward situation with her own considered silence). If the interviewer had not been white, would Ms. Woodson have brought up her race? Would she have prejudged her in such a dismissive way? And how, I wonder, would Ms. Woodson feel if she was always described as a “black” writer, suggesting her books have a specific but limited audience?

Ms. Woodson is a fine writer and it’s possible that her words were meant to be playful, as if spoken to a knowing group of friends and supporters. But when printed in a national magazine, they come across as old-fashioned stereotyping.

Lydia Gagliano
Orange, NJ



  1. There’s so much I want to say in response to this post…but I read it on the fly duting a busy morning home with my seven-month-old, and I’m not sure when I’ll get the chance to sit down and write something thoughtful. For now I will just suggest that Lydia and anyone thinking about whiteness and books and awards (re)read a poem called “Commercial Break” from Jacqueline Woodson’s multi-award-winning verse novel Locomotion, which I just taught in my Criticism course at Simmons:

    Sorry for the long link to google books, but take a look. In it Woodson “breaks it down” oh so well.

  2. Lesley Coalbucci says:

    It seems to me the whole piece depends on the racialized nature of the interaction. “Which award” says it all.

  3. Lisa Nowlain says:

    Wow! What strikes me most is how threatened this letter seems. The author of this letter seems to feel that calling someone by their race is cruel. Considering the Watermelon incident, the whole point of the Coretta Scott King Award (and its history), as well as the general state of oppression towards African Americans in the US, it seems obvious to me why Woodson would point out the Whiteness of that interviewer. Yes, race is a social construct (or a floating signifier, as Stuart Hall says), I’m assuming that Woodson is not equating all white people with clueless and insensitive people, she’s telling that story to show how valuable and undervalued the CSK award is.

    I’d also recommend to Lydia Gagliano to research reverse racism (hint: it’s not real)

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