Archive | 6:30 am

An evening with Jacqueline Woodson

5 Apr

It’s a busy week, after the relaxing pace of Spring Break. It’s all good stuff and has me wondering why everything gets packed into one week and isn’t spread out over the whole month. The Universe can be a weird place sometimes.

Last night, wasn’t weird, it was wonderful. I hear Jacqueline Woodson speak as part of the Portland Arts and Lectures series, where authors talk about their work.

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Early on she told said, ” I know I’m not supposed to re, but that’s okay because most of my books are memorized.” She started reciting “show Way and had us from that moment on.

She went on to talk about the many ways we take in narrative and told her own story, listening to the stories her family told. Her family worried she’d write about them and she learned that  how she portrayed people mattered.

In telling the story of writing Brown Girl Dreaming,  Woodson said, “if you have old people in your life talk to them, get their stories”. Those of us who have lost our parents, grandparents, and others of that generation really understand why she says that.

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What I found most fascinating was her explanation of how Brown Girl Dreaming  came to be the book it is.  She said it was falling apart – that all books fall apart at some point but you have to do the work to keep it going and move on. In conversation with a friend about the problem she was having, the friend remarked, ” The South was on fire when you were born.” and that was the spark the brought it all together for her. That doesn’t mean it was easy from that point on. There were 33 rewrites, a fact I will happily tell my students.

She gave some good pieces of advice to aspiring writers.

  • Know that you have a story and the right to tell it.
  • Decide why you want to write.
  • Show your writing to people you trust.
  • Be prepared to re-write a lot!

 

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