Fall 2014 Publishers’ Preview: Five Questions for Jacqueline Woodson

Publishers' Previews

This interview originally appeared in the September/October 2014 Horn Book Magazine as part of the Fall Publishers’ Preview, a semiannual advertising supplement that allows participating publishers a chance to each highlight a book from its current list. They choose the books; we ask the questions.

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From Newbery Honor author and Coretta Scott King Award winner Jacqueline Woodson comes Brown Girl Dreaming, published in August by Nancy Paulsen Books.

Photo: Marty Umans Photo: Marty Umans.

1. In writing this memoir, did you find that you had remembered any of your stories wrong?

JW: Yup. Misremembered birthdays, age divides, who lived where when. Because my grandfather NEVER went with us to the Kingdom Hall, I had always thought it was my grandmother’s religion. But when I went down South, my cousins, who are all Witnesses, informed me that my grandfather had been a Witness first. I had also thought Uncle David was older than my dad and it turned out, my dad was the oldest boy.

2. Why did you choose to tell your own story in verse?

JW: Memory comes to me, broken up and with lots of white space around it. It comes in phrases and small moments. Verse seemed to be the only way to represent this.

woodson_brown girl dreaming3. You mention your childhood love for “The Selfish Giant” and your mother’s surprise that you want to “hear such a sad story again and again.” Why do we like sad stories?

JW: We like them because they remind us of how safe and loved we actually are. And because of this, they teach us empathy.

4. You had at least a part-time upbringing as a Jehovah’s Witness. For good and/or ill, what has that left you with?

JW: A great sense of humor, for one thing. Witnesses are serious people. They also know how to laugh to keep from crying. But mostly, I think it’s left me always feeling like a person standing just outside the world — looking in. Sometimes that feels amazing. And sometimes it saddens me.

5. How do you see your own children creating memories?

JW: I just looked over at my own two children — one who is taking selfies on her phone, posturing at the piano; the other greedily sucking in his one-hour-a-day of summer TV — and I have to say they will one day let me know. But as for today, I haven’t the slightest idea!

Sponsored byPenguin

Roger Sutton
Roger Sutton

Editor Emeritus Roger Sutton was editor in chief of The Horn Book, Inc., from 1996-2021. He was previously editor of The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books and a children's and young adult librarian. He received his MA in library science from the University of Chicago in 1982 and a BA from Pitzer College in 1978.

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