Jacqueline Woodson

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Jacqueline Woodson
Woodson at the 2018 U.S. National Book Festival
Woodson at the 2018 U.S. National Book Festival
BornJacqueline Amanda Woodson
(1963-02-12) February 12, 1963 (age 61)
Columbus, Ohio, U.S.
Alma materAdelphi University
The New School
GenreYoung adult fiction
SubjectAfrican-American literature
Notable works
Notable awardsNational Book Award

National Ambassador for Young People's Literature

MacArthur Fellowship

PartnerJuliet Widoff

Jacqueline Woodson (born February 12, 1963) is an American writer of books for children and adolescents. She is best known for Miracle's Boys, and her Newbery Honor-winning titles Brown Girl Dreaming, After Tupac and D Foster, Feathers, and Show Way. After serving as the Young People's Poet Laureate from 2015 to 2017,[1] she was named the National Ambassador for Young People's Literature, by the Library of Congress, for 2018 to 2019. Her novel Another Brooklyn was shortlisted for the 2016 National Book Award for Fiction.[2] She won the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award in 2018.[3] She was named a MacArthur Fellow in 2020.[4]

Early years[edit]

Jacqueline Woodson was born in Columbus, Ohio, and lived in Nelsonville, Ohio, before her family moved south.[5] During her early years she lived in Greenville, South Carolina, before moving to Brooklyn at about the age of seven. She also states where she lives in her autobiography, Brown Girl Dreaming.[6][7] As a child, Woodson enjoyed telling stories and always knew she wanted to be a writer.[8] Her favorite books when she was young were Hans Christian Andersen's "The Little Match Girl" and Mildred D. Taylor's Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry.[9]

Writing career[edit]

[I wanted] to write about communities that were familiar to me and people that were familiar to me. I wanted to write about communities of color. I wanted to write about girls. I wanted to write about friendship and all of these things that I felt like were missing in a lot of the books that I read as a child.[10]

After college, Woodson went to work for Kirchoff/Wohlberg, a children's publishing company. She helped to write the California standardized reading tests and caught the attention of Liza Pulitzer-Voges, a children's book agent at the same company. Although the partnership did not work out, it did get Woodson's first manuscript out of a drawer. She then enrolled in Bunny Gable's children's book writing class at The New School, where Bebe Willoughby, an editor at Delacorte, heard a reading from Last Summer with Maizon and requested the manuscript. Delacorte bought the manuscript, but Willoughby left the company before editing it and so Wendy Lamb took over and saw Woodson's first book published.[11]


Woodson's youth was split between South Carolina and Brooklyn. In her interview with Jennifer M. Brown she remembered: "The South was so lush and so slow-moving and so much about community. The city was thriving and fast-moving and electric. Brooklyn was so much more diverse: on the block where I grew up, there were German people, people from the Dominican Republic, people from Puerto Rico, African-Americans from the South, Caribbean-Americans, Asians."[11]

When asked to name her literary influences in an interview with journalist Hazel Rochman, Woodson responded: "Two major writers for me are James Baldwin and Virginia Hamilton. It blew me away to find out Virginia Hamilton was a sister like me. Later, Nikki Giovanni had a similar effect on me. I feel that I learned how to write from Baldwin. He was onto some future stuff, writing about race and gender long before people were comfortable with those dialogues. He would cross class lines all over the place, and each of his characters was remarkably believable. I still pull him down from my shelf when I feel stuck."[12] Other early influences included Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye and Sula, and the work of Rosa Guy, as well as her high-school English teacher, Mr. Miller.[11] Louise Meriwether was also named.[13]


As an author, Woodson's known for the detailed physical landscapes she writes into each of her books. She places boundaries everywhere—social, economic, physical, sexual, racial—then has her characters break through both the physical and psychological boundaries to create a strong and emotional story.[11] She is also known for her optimism. She has said that she dislikes books that do not offer hope. She has offered the novel Sounder as an example of a "bleak" and "hopeless" novel. On the other hand, she enjoyed A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Even though the family was exceptionally poor, the characters experienced "moments of hope and sheer beauty". She uses this philosophy in her own writing, saying: "If you love the people you create, you can see the hope there."[11]

As a writer she consciously writes for a younger audience. There are authors who write about adolescence or from a youth's point of view, but their work is intended for adult audiences. Woodson writes about childhood and adolescence with an audience of youth in mind. In an interview on National Public Radio (NPR) she said, "I'm writing about adolescents for adolescents. And I think the main difference is when you're writing to a particular age group, especially a younger age group, you're — the writing can't be as implicit. You're more in the moment. They don't have the adult experience from which to look back. So you're in the moment of being an adolescent ... and the immediacy and the urgency is very much on the page, because that's what it feels like to be an adolescent. Everything is so important, so big, so traumatic. And all of that has to be in place for them."[14]


Woodson has, in turn, influenced many other writers, including An Na, who credits her as being her first writing teacher.[12] She also teaches teens at the National Book Foundation's summer writing camp where she co-edits the annual anthology of their combined work.[11] She was also a visiting fellow at the American Library in Paris in spring of 2017.


Woodson along with writer Jason Reynolds and Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden in January 2020

Some reviewers have labeled Woodson's writings as "issue-related", but she believes that her books address universal questions.[11] She has tackled subjects that were not commonly discussed when her books were published, including interracial couples, teenage pregnancy and homosexuality. She often does this with sympathetic characters put into realistic situations.[11] Woodson states that her interests lie in exploring many different perspectives through her writings, not in forcing her views onto others.[10]

Woodson has several themes that appear in many of her novels. She explores issues of gender, class and race as well as family and history. She is known for using these common themes in ground-breaking ways.[12] While many of her characters are given labels that make them "invisible" to society, Woodson is most often writing about their search for self rather than a search for equality or social justice.[10]


Only The Notebooks of Melanin Sun, Miracle's Boys, and Locomotion are written from a male perspective. The rest of Woodson's works feature female narrators.[12] However, her 2009 small story "Trev", published in How Beautiful the Ordinary: Twelve Stories of Identity, features a transgender male narrator.

African-American society and history[edit]

Black women have been everywhere--building the railroads, cleaning the kitchens, starting revolutions, writing poetry, leading voter registration drives and leading slaves to freedom. We've been there and done that. I want the people who have come before me to be part of the stories that I'm telling, because if it weren't for them, I wouldn't be telling stories.[12]

In her 2003 novel, Coming on Home Soon, she explores both race and gender within the historical context of World War II.[12]

The Other Side is a poetic look at race through two young girls, one black and one white, who sit on either side of the fence that separates their worlds.[10]

In November 2014, Daniel Handler, the master of ceremonies at the National Book Awards, made a joke about watermelons when Woodson received an award. In a New York Times Op-Ed published shortly thereafter, "The Pain of the Watermelon Joke," Woodson explained that "in making light of that deep and troubled history" with his joke, Daniel Handler had come from a place of ignorance. She underscored the need for her mission to "give people a sense of this country's brilliant and brutal history, so no one ever thinks they can walk onto a stage one evening and laugh at another's too often painful past."[15]

Red at the Bone (2019), a novel, weaves together stories of three generations of one Black family, including the trauma resulting from the Tulsa Race Massacre and the September 11 attacks.[4][16]

Economic status[edit]

The Dear One is notable for dealing with the differences between rich and poor within the black community.[10]

Sexual identity[edit]

The House You Pass on the Way is a novel that touches on gay identity through the main characters of Staggerlee.[12]

Staggerlee knows who she is for the most part, but her friend Trout is struggling, conforming, trying to fit in somewhere. I wish I had had this book when I was a kid and trying to fit in while being a tomboy and so unfeminine.[12]

In The Dear One Woodson introduces a strongly committed lesbian relationship between Marion and Bernadette. She then contrasts it to the broken straight family that results in a teenager from Harlem named Rebecca moving in with them and their 12-year-old daughter, Feni.[10]

Critical response[edit]

Last Summer with Maizon, Woodson's first book, was praised by critics for creating positive female characters and the touching portrayal of the close eleven-year-old friends. Reviewers also commented on its convincing sense of place and vivid character relationships. The next two books in the trilogy, Maizon at Blue Hill and Between Madison and Palmetto, were also well received for their realistic characters and strong writing style. The issues of self-esteem and identity are addressed throughout the three books.[10] A few reviewers felt that there was a slight lack of focus as the trilogy touched lightly and quickly on too many different problems in too few pages.

Announcing her as recipient of the ALA Margaret A. Edwards Award in 2006, the citation of the panel of librarians chair stated: "Woodson's books are powerful, groundbreaking and very personal explorations of the many ways in which identity and friendship transcend the limits of stereotype."[17]

In October 2020, Woodson won a MacArthur Fellowship, commonly known as a "Genius Grant."[18] The MacArthur Foundation recognized her for "redefining children’s and young adult literature in works that reflect the complexity and diversity of the world we live in while stretching young readers’ intellectual abilities and capacity for empathy." Her books "evoke the hopefulness and power of human connection even as they tackle difficult issues."[4] She has stated that she plans to use the grant money to expand Baldwin for the Arts, the residency program for people of color she founded.[19]


Some of the topics covered in Woodson's books raise flags for many censors. Homosexuality, child abuse, harsh language and other content have led to issues with censorship. In an interview on NPR Woodson said that she uses very few curse words in her books and that the issues adults have with her subject matter say more about what they are uncomfortable with than it does what their students should be thinking about. She suggests that people look at the various outside influences teens have access to today, then compare that to the subject matter in her books.[14]

Personal life[edit]

Woodson lives in Park Slope, Brooklyn, with her partner Juliet Widoff, a physician. The couple have two children, a daughter and a son.[20]

Awards and honors[edit]

Complete works[edit]


  • Autobiography of a Family Photo (1995)
  • Another Brooklyn (2016)[33]
  • Red at the Bone (2019)[34]
  • Remember Us. Penguin. 2023. ISBN 978-0-399-54546-7.

Middle grade titles[edit]

  • Last Summer with Maizon (1990)
  • Maizon at Blue Hill (1992)
  • Between Madison and Palmetto (1993)
  • Feathers (2007)
  • After Tupac and D Foster (2008)
  • Peace Locomotion (2009)
  • Locomotion (2010), verse novel
  • Brown Girl Dreaming (2014), verse novel
  • Harbor Me (2018)
  • Before the Ever After (2020)

Young adult titles[edit]

  • The Dear One (1990)
  • I Hadn't Meant to Tell You This (1994)
  • From the Notebooks of Melanin Sun (1995)
  • The House You Pass on the Way (1997)
  • If You Come Softly (1998)
  • Lena (1999)
  • Miracle's Boys (2000)
  • Hush (2002)
  • Behind You (2004)
  • Beneath a Meth Moon (2012)
  • The Letter Q: Queer Writers' Notes to Their Younger Selves (2012) (Contributor)

Illustrated works[edit]



Filmmaker Spike Lee and others made Miracle's Boys into a miniseries, airing in 2005.[35]

Audio recordings[edit]

  • I Hadn't Meant to Tell You This, Recorded Books, 1999
  • Lena, Recorded Books, 1999
  • Miracle's Boys, Listening Library, 2001
  • Locomotion, Recorded Books, 2003
  • Show Way, Weston Woods, 2012
  • Brown Girl Dreaming, Penguin Audio, 2014
  • If You Come Softly, Listening Library, 2018
  • Harbor Me, Listening Library, 2018
  • The Day You Begin, Listening Library, 2018
  • Visiting Day, Listening Library, 2018
  • Before Her, part of "The One" series, Brilliance Publishing, 2019
  • Red at the Bone, Penguin Audio, 2019

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Kellogg, Carolyn (June 3, 2015), "Jacqueline Woodson named the new Young People’s Poet Laureate", Los Angeles Times.
  2. ^ Dwyer, Colin (October 6, 2016). "These Are The 2016 National Book Award Finalists". NPR. Retrieved February 6, 2024.
  3. ^ Schaub, Michael (March 27, 2018). "Jacqueline Woodson wins the world's largest prize for children's literature, the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved December 2, 2023.
  4. ^ a b c "Jacqueline Woodson - MacArthur Foundation". www.macfound.org. Retrieved October 9, 2020.
  5. ^ "Bexley to host award-winning author Jacqueline Woodson". The Columbus Dispatch. November 20, 2016. Archived from the original on June 8, 2019. Retrieved March 7, 2019.
  6. ^ "Frequently Asked Questions", Jacqueline Woodson website.
  7. ^ "Jacqueline Woodson On Growing Up, Coming Out And Saying Hi To Strangers", NPR interview, December 10, 2014.
  8. ^ "AudioFile Magazine Spotlight on Author Jacqueline Woodson". AudioFile Magazine. Retrieved November 17, 2019.
  9. ^ "Jacqueline Woodson on Finding Inspiration and Writing". www.theskimm.com. November 8, 2019. Retrieved November 17, 2019.
  10. ^ a b c d e f g "Jacqueline Woodson." Contemporary Authors Online. Detroit: Gale, 2008. Literature Resource Center. HENNEPIN COUNTY LIBRARY. June 13, 2009
  11. ^ a b c d e f g h Brown, Jennifer M. "From outsider to insider" (interview), Publishers Weekly. 249.6 (February 11, 2002): p. 156. Literature Resource Center. Gale. HENNEPIN COUNTY LIBRARY. June 13, 2009.
  12. ^ a b c d e f g h Rochman, Hazel. "Jacqueline Woodson", Booklist. 101.11 (February 1, 2005), p. 968. Literature Resource Center. Gale. HENNEPIN COUNTY LIBRARY. June 13, 2009.
  13. ^ Williams, Carla (2002). "Woodson, Jacqueline". glbtq.com. Archived from the original on September 7, 2008. Retrieved January 24, 2009.
  14. ^ a b "Interview: Jeffrey Eugenides, Jonathan Lethem and Jacqueline Woodson discuss the writer's view of adolescence". Talk of the Nation (August 19, 2004): Literature Resource Center. Gale. HENNEPIN COUNTY LIBRARY. June 13, 2009.
  15. ^ Woodson, Jacqueline (November 28, 2014). "The Pain of the Watermelon Joke". New York Times.
  16. ^ Chow, Kat (September 19, 2019). "Jacqueline Woodson Transformed Children's Literature. Now She's Writing for Herself". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved November 2, 2023.
  17. ^ "Woodson honored for lifetime contribution to young adult readers with Edwards Award", American Library Association (ALA), January 23, 2006.
  18. ^ Jacobs, Julia (October 6, 2020). "MacArthur Foundation Announces 21 'Genius' Grant Winners". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved October 9, 2020.
  19. ^ "3 LGBTQ trailblazers among 2020 MacArthur 'genius grant' winners". NBC News. October 8, 2020. Retrieved October 9, 2020.
  20. ^ McArdle, Molly (September 28, 2015). ""I Believe in Brooklyn": At Home with Jacqueline Woodson". Brooklyn Magazine. Retrieved March 24, 2018.
  21. ^ "Coretta Scott King Book Awards - All Recipients, 1970–Present - Ethnic & Multicultural Information Exchange Round Table (EMIERT)". www.ala.org. April 5, 2012. Retrieved November 7, 2015.
  22. ^ Kellogg, Carolyn (February 2, 2015). "2015 Newbery, Caldecott and Printz awards announced". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved October 10, 2015.
  23. ^ "Best Books for Young Adults Annotated List 2004 | Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA)". www.ala.org. July 30, 2007. Retrieved November 7, 2015.
  24. ^ "2005 Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers | Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA)". www.ala.org. July 30, 2007. Retrieved November 7, 2015.
  25. ^ "2006 Margaret A. Edwards Award Winner". Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA). American Library Association (ALA).
      "Edwards Award". YALSA. ALA. Retrieved October 10, 2013.
  26. ^ "Newbery Medal and Honor Books, 1922–Present". Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC). Retrieved November 7, 2015.
  27. ^ "Jacqueline Woodson Named Young People's Poet Laureate". The Poetry Foundation. June 3, 2015. Retrieved November 7, 2015.
  28. ^ "Author Jacqueline Woodson receives 2015 Langston Hughes Medal". The City College of New York. November 2, 2015. Retrieved October 8, 2020.
  29. ^ Hetter, Katia, 2016 "Newbery, Caldecott awards honor best children's books", CNN, January 11, 2016.
  30. ^ Alter, Alexandra (January 4, 2018). "Jacqueline Woodson is Named National Ambassador for Young People's Literature". New York Times. Retrieved January 4, 2018.
  31. ^ "2019 Goodreads Choice Award Best Fiction". Goodreads. Goodreads, Inc. Retrieved June 2, 2020.
  32. ^ "Woodson, Albertine win 2020 Hans Christian Andersen Award". Books+Publishing. May 12, 2020. Retrieved May 12, 2020.
  33. ^ "Another Brooklyn A Novel by Jacqueline Woodson". HarperCollins. October 21, 2017.
  34. ^ "Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson". Penguin Random House. Retrieved September 22, 2019.
  35. ^ "Miracle's Boys | TV Mini-Series (2005– )" at IMDb.

External links[edit]