"If you are able to give up a dream then it's not a big enough dream," says Jacqueline Woodson, prolific author and poet. "Your dream should be a deep and huge part of who you are — a spirit that can't be destroyed — no matter how many people say otherwise, no matter how many rejections come. Writing is like breathing for me; I will do it whether people are reading what I write or not," says Woodson.
At home, Woodson always wears headphones when she writes and has a special room she uses to work. "It's supposed to be a room where no one disturbs me, but that never happens," Woodson says and laughs. "Depending on what I'm writing, the music changes. And as much as I love music, I love my editor, Nancy Paulsen. She knows how to unlock a story and always gets what I'm trying to say."
We'll get a chance to hear what Woodson herself has to say when she delivers the 39th annual Marian McFadden Memorial lecture sponsored by the Indianapolis Public Library. "I'll be [discussing] my books, my experience as a writer and a person, my humor and my hope," says Woodson. "I want Hoosiers to know I'm just me and I'm going to be happy to be in the room with all of them."
Her works have won many awards, such as the Coretta Scott King Book Award, the Newbery Honor Medal, the National Book Award, and the Margaret A. Edwards Award for Lifetime Achievement, to name a few. And as of 2015, she was recognized as Young People's Poet Laureate, awarded by the Poetry Foundation for a two-year period. The award aims to showcase young people as a naturally poetic audience, especially receptive when understood the work is written with them in mind.
"My platform as Poet Laureate is about getting words and a love of words into communities that too often get ignored — because of lack of money," says Woodson. "So I'm traveling into underserved schools, community and juvenile detention centers to talk about my life as a writer, to give out books, to teach writing. These days I'm thinking about humanity — how fragile we are all feeling, how afraid. I'm thinking, as I've always thought, about the struggles of people of color in this country. Of the poor. My work comes out of a deep sense of love for people and the hope of creating safe spaces through knowledge. I've always thought the lack of tolerance for any type of 'other' is about fear and my work hopes to take a deeper look at that fear," she says. And with that look and understanding, there comes a price.
"I feel guilty when I can't go to a place where my voice is needed," says Woodson. "I am grateful for the many spaces I am asked to fill. I miss my family when I'm away and am constantly relearning the balance between writing and mothering. Right now, I'm answering these questions as my son fences — I have an hour to do this interview before becoming Mom again on a rainy Saturday. I think so many of us have to wear these many hats in our lives so I feel a connection to the other people walking through the world as I do."
Connections are Woodson's speciality. She's connected with readers of all ages, and around the world — her works have been translated into multiple languages. "The realization of the recognition is an evolving process," says Woodson. "Every time I see that people have come out to see and hear me speak/read — I am deeply honored and completely surprised. Whenever someone asks for an interview or an autograph, I'm reminded my words are taking up a greater space in the world and I have an even bigger responsibility to these words in this space than I once had. So it's nuanced ... layered."
Woodson knows her work is not yet done. It does not stop at the end of the book. She feels her responsibility as continuous and works especially hard to let people of all walks of life know their voice matters, that it has a right to be heard.
"I just think it took us so long to earn this right to vote, we must use it," says Woodson. "This is the tool, the power we have. Not just for the presidential election but at every level — every time there is an election...we need to use our power to decide at every level how our cities, states, and country will be run. So this said, there is so much I still have to write about. So much it can't be contained in a single interview! [But] hopefully, in my body of work, people will find what they need and I intend to keep making my fans proud."