Sunday, June 29, 2008

Jacqueline Woodson: A Voice for Hope

Last night while some of us were refreshing our pedicures-- er, I mean reading Crime and Punishment once again, the lovely and prolific Jacqueline Woodson was being honored by the American Library Association  with a Newberry Honor Book Award for her newest middle grade release entitled Feathers. It is a story of hope, and a mysterious new white boy that comes to the narrator's predominantly black school, causing some speculation that he might be Jesus.  Her main character's best friend, Samantha, says, "If there was a world for Jesus to need to walk back into, wouldn't this one be it?"  

This is her second Newberry Honor Book, in fact-- Show Way (2006) also garnered her this award.  Robin and I had the rich and unforgettable pleasure of hearing her read this at a recent SCBWI National Conference.  

Jacqueline will be looking for additional storage space sometime soon for the wealth of hardware she has earned for her eight picture books, six middle grade books, and eleven young adult novels.   (Wow. And, if you'll note the photo above, she's still standing!)

Locomotion was a National Book Award Finalist and won a Coretta Scott King Honor.  Miracle's Boys also won the Coretta Scott King Award and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize.  It was then made into a mini-series directed by a number of people including Spike Lee.  

Jacqueline received the Margaret A. Edwards Award from the American Library Associations's (ALA) Young Adult Library Services Association in 2006 for her books I Hadn’t Meant to Tell You This, Lena, From the Notebook Melanin Sun, If You Come Softly, and Miracle’s Boys. For her book Coming on Home Soon, she won the Caldecott Honor, ALA Notable, Booklist Editor's Choice and Child Magazine Best of 2004.

We feel so honored to have this inspired voice with us today at Shrinking Violets.  

* * * * * * * * *

If the difference between introversion and extraversion is where one goes to gather energy—within, or in the company of others, where do you fall on the continuum?

I think it depends on the time of day -- if it's during my writing time, I'm very introverted and am fed by my work. If it's in the afternoon, when my writing day is done, I need my people -- my family, my friends and lots of talk and laughter around me.

What is your favorite book promotion/marketing activity?

I like a nice party with people I know and don't know so well.  I like it in a nice space with good food and wine and nice lighting.  If it's a book, I'm particularly in love with, I might enjoy reading from it.  But mostly, I like to just hang. If it could turn into a dance party with kicking seventies and eighties disco playing, then I'm way happy.  And if there are enough black folks to get the Electric Slide going or enough young people to do the Soldier Boy Crank, then it's truly a party.  (With a publishing bent of course.)

What marketing activity ranks right up there with--oh, I dunno, a colonoscopy?

Once a publicist had the bright idea to ask writers to describe what is in our pocketbooks, knapsacks, etc.  I thought that was pretty absurd (and didn't do it) but i think anything that messes with the privacy of a writer is off limits.  My friends even call me by a different name than the people I know in the writing world and this is pretty much all about keeping my private life/world separate from my writing life.  When I hear someone call me by my writing name, I automatically know -- they know me via writing and we're most likely not that close.  As you go through the writing life, you meet SO many people and it's hard to keep track and to keep private. I have no interest in opening up my bag or my private life in that way.  I think with the internet and reality tv and all of that stuff, the borders of privacy are shifting and for anybody who is halfway introverted, it can get tricky.  

I have an amazing community of people who keep me sane and whole and who I come 'home' to and let few others into that world. My writing is very open and sometimes painful and sometimes people mistake my writing (both the experiences of the characters and the energy behind it) for Me.  And although there is some part of me on the pages, most of me I keep protected so that I can continue to write.  When a marketing person wants me to bare some private part of myself for public consumption, I am very clear about saying No Way.

Has an editor or publicist ever asked (or expected) you to do something to promote your book that was hard for you?  What was it and how did you handle it?

I can't remember. If it was something I didn't want to do, I'm sure I just said No.

If your publicist had $5,000 budgeted to promote your book, how would you like that money spent?

My ideal is getting books in the hands of people who couldn't otherwise afford them.  So if my publisher said "Here's $5,000 to do with it as you will," I'd buy a whole bunch of my own books in paperback and give them out at underserved schools and community centers, etc.  And while there, I'd do an author visit (also for free). I think through this act, we don't see the immediate sales of books but it does impact our efforts to make lifetime readers out of young people.

As often as you speak in public, do you still get nervous/vaporous/catatonic?

Just when a lot of my friends and my family are there.

 What do you do to recharge your batteries when you’ve blown your wad?

Get myself around the people I love.

Introvert you’d most like to have dinner with?  (Living or deceased, but presumed living during your date.)

James Baldwin. If he's booked, then Carson McCullers.

* * * * * * * * *

Robin and I love (a lot) what Jacqueline would do with $5,000.00 marketing dollars. Which we're pretty sure no Professional Marketing Consultant would support this because it is off the radar screen and doesn't generate buzz or dough.   That's why we like it so much.  We think giving away books to kids that are underserved is a radical act that has a force beyond anything we can see or understand. So, we'd like Jacqueline to be our new BFF. It would help a lot if she would move to California so we could take her with us to CPK.  We have it on good authority that pizza is her fave food.  

In honor of Jacqueline's visit to SVP, we'd like to give a copy of Feathers to your someone's public library. To the first person that can tell us what item Jacqueline would probably would NOT want on her pizza. Good luck!  

Grace and peace,

Mary Hershey


R.L. LaFevers said...

Mary, thanks so much for this great interview! I've been fascinated by Jacqueline Woodson ever since we saw her at Nationals.

And I love, love, love what she says about keeping her private life private. So smart.

tanita✿davis said...

Has an editor or publicist ever asked (or expected) you to do something to promote your book that was hard for you?

I can't remember. If it was something I didn't want to do, I'm sure I just said No.

Ohhhh, can she bottle and sell that ability? Can I have that with a side of "and I don't feel guilty" please?

Congratulations to her, though - just quietly moving along and doing her thing. And better yet, receiving honor for being herself. I love that most of all.

jama said...

What a fine, inspiring interview! Thank you!

Shari Green said...

Loved this interview - thanks! As for what Jacqueline would not want on pizza, I have no idea. But I'll guess anchovies, cuz they're just disgusting. Little fishies do not belong on pizza. (but that's just imho, hee!)

Mary Hershey said...

Hey, Shari-- not anchovies, but a couple of other things that start with the letter "a" . . .

Mary Hershey

Wild About Words said...

Thanks for this honest, inspiring interview. I love Ms. Woodson's writing and admire her ideas/ideals that came across in the interview. As a vegetarian, I'm going to guess that Ms. Woodson wants no animals on her pizza -- ham, pepperoni, etc. Thanks again for sharing this wonderful interview with us.
All best,

Shari Green said...

artichoke hearts? avocado? asparagus? (hmmm, I don't think I've ever seen asparagus on a pizza, but it might be good...)

Mary Hershey said...

Shari, you're right on two accounts! According to the FAQ on her website, Jacqueline does not like avocado or artichokes. YOU are our winner!

Will you email me off-line and we'll talk about your prize??

Mary Hershey