Writing for young adults is important work, author Jacqueline Woodson says
Jacqueline Woodson has a quick response when asked why she writes books for children and young adults.
“Why wouldn't I write for young people?” says Woodson, who will appear Feb. 28 at Carnegie Library Lecture Hall in Oakland as a guest of Pittsburgh Arts & Lectures' Kids and Teens series. “Young people are amazing. It's a vast landscape to explore. The adolescents are the years that really stay with us. It's important work; it's work, for me, that can be life-changing for myself and young people.”
Woodson is the recipient of numerous honors, including a National Book Award for Young People's Literature in 2014 for “Brown Girl Dreaming” (Nancy Paulsen/Penguin Books). She is also the recipient of a Newberry Honors Medal, a Caldecott Medal and a Coretta Scott King Award and serves as the Poetry Foundation's Young People's Poet Laureate.
Each age group that Woodson writes for, including picture books for young children and novels for adults, presents unique challenges. One of the hurdles she faces in the young-adult genre is how that demographic often feels like it knows a lot about the subject at hand.
“You need to have a respect for that,” Woodson says, “while at the same time coming at it from a perspective that there's something you can say as an adult. There's a lens as a young adult, so there's a challenge in getting back to that place and having a respect for it.”
Despite more options vying for their attention, Woodson has found that most young adults enjoy reading, even if the way they read is different.
“They are reading on their devices, reading on their phones, they're reading shorter pieces sometimes,” Woodson says. “They're writing on Instagram and writing on Twitter and Facebook, and engaging content and taking in content, and to me, that's reading. ... I meet a lot of kids who are excited about reading and literature.”
Many of Woodson's books are based on her childhood experiences growing up in Brooklyn and South Carolina during the 1960s and early 1970s. This gives her alternate climates and settings that influence her characters who reflect the attitudes and situations she faced as a black girl.
She's also fearless in her approach to subject matter. Her young-adult novels address topics including drug abuse in “Beneath a Meth Moon,” poverty in “Miracle's Boys” and interracial relationships in “If You Come Softly.”
Woodson calls her approach to characters and topics realistic fiction.
“I think it's dishonest to not write about the real world,” Woodson says. “When I come across a book and there are no people of color in it, I have zero interest in reading this book and zero interest in meeting this person who lives in an homogenous world.”
Rege Behe is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.