“Maybe I should go there, too, my mother says.
Everyone else, she says,
has a new place to be now.
has gone away.
And now coming back home
isn’t really coming back home
Jacqueline Woodson, BROWN GIRL DREAMING
Jacqueline Woodson, one of today’s finest writers, tells the moving story of her childhood in mesmerizing verse.
Raised in South Carolina and New York, Woodson always felt halfway home in each place. In vivid poems, she shares what it was like to grow up as an African American in the 1960s and 1970s, living with the remnants of Jim Crow and her growing awareness of the Civil Rights movement. Touching and powerful, each poem is both accessible and emotionally charged, each line a glimpse into a child’s soul as she searches for her place in the world. Woodson’s eloquent poetry also reflects the joy of finding her voice through writing stories, despite the fact that she struggled with reading as a child. Her love of stories inspired her and stayed with her, creating the first sparks of the gifted writer she was to become.
I had the pleasure of seeing Jacqueline Woodson deliver the Keynote Address at last week’s Writer’s Digest Conference in New York City. Rarely does one come across a speech that inspires, humbles, makes one laugh and cry, and ends all too soon. Ms. Woodson’s talk did just that. She enchanted the room with her warmth, humor, and intelligence, and when she concluded, the crowd of hundreds gave her a standing ovation.
I read Woodson’s memoir BROWN GIRL DREAMING on the train home. I could hear her voice in my ear, telling me in verse who she was from the roots up, creating such vivid pictures with her words that I could have been watching a film. From Ohio in the sixties to the Jim Crow south, to New York in the seventies, each time and place are encapsulated vividly in the references to songs, shows, dress, and food, and provide the context for a girl learning who she is from the adults around her. The memoir has won the National Book Award, the Newbery Honor, and the Coretta Scott King Award, and all are well deserved.
In Ms. Woodson’s speech, she said, “Going deeply into the emotional truth of the work makes the specific universal.” Because BROWN GIRL DREAMING does just this, it is every child’s story, coming of age in complicated families and cities. It is the kind of book everyone in this country should read right now, because it makes us aware of our shared humanity, and our obligation to give our children a better world than the one in which we currently exist. I give BROWN GIRL DREAMING my highest recommendation.