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literature

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Woodson, Jacqueline (b. 1963)  

One of the most pernicious and persistent libels is the idea that homosexuals somehow "recruit" or influence children to become gay. Such misconceptions often cause gay men and lesbians to avoid contact with children or adolescents. Jacqueline Woodson, an African-American lesbian author of books for young adults, defies this particular irrationality even as she gives voice to a complex range of both straight and gay characters who are not often depicted in literature.

Born in Columbus, Ohio, and raised in Greenville, South Carolina, and Brooklyn, New York, Woodson began to consider becoming a writer as an adolescent in the fifth grade. Novels by Toni Morrison, Louise Meriwether, and Rosa Guy inspired her; in them she discovered characters who were actually like herself and the people she knew.

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Woodson received a bachelor's degree in English from Howard University and worked as a children's drama therapist. Perhaps, in part, because of this early career, she is remarkably adept at capturing the voice of youth, its insecurities as well as its wisdom and bravery.

Woodson often writes about relationships between girls, as in the "Maizon" trilogy--Last Summer with Maizon (1990), Maizon at Blue Hill (1992), and Between Madison and Palmetto (1993)--and I Hadn't Meant to Tell You This (1994). "Girls rarely get discussed in books and films," she says, "and I want to do 'girl stories' that show strong, independent people. I think girls are often disregarded in this society and taught to be dependent. I want to show young people that there are other ways to be."

Woodson's uncanny ability to understand the adolescent mind and communicate young adult feelings has also allowed her to write from the perspective of teen-aged boys, as in From the Notebooks of Melanin Sun (1997) and Miracle's Boys (2000).

Through her elegantly simple writing, Woodson introduces her audiences to concepts of racism, miscegenation, poverty, and mental illness, as well as gay and lesbian issues. Gay characters are frequent in her work and include mothers, such as EC in From the Notebooks of Melanin Sun and Marion in The Dear One (1991); friends; and even the first-person narrator, such as Staggerlee in The House You Pass on the Way (1994).

In addition to writing her own novels about children and young adults, Woodson has edited A Way Out of No Way: Writings about Growing Up Black in America (1996), a book that is devoted to stories about children.

Autobiography of a Family Photo (1995), Woodson's first "adult" novel, benefits from her insights into the world of children. A young girl is the narrator, and Woodson presents a brilliantly clear memory of the details of youth. A series of intimate vignettes--two- and three-page chapters--chronicling a young girl's experiences growing up, Autobiography reads like a collection of diary entries almost too personal to share. The novel features the kind of achingly honest and tender writing that makes the reader pause over its simple loveliness.

Woodson has also collaborated with Catherine Saalfield on a 30-minute video, Among Good Christian People (1991). Based on an autobiographical essay written by Woodson that deals with the conflict between religion and personal freedom, the video discusses the author's unique perspective growing up "different," both as a writer and a lesbian. It also chronicles the experiences of other gay men and lesbians and their relationship to faith. Saalfield and Woodson received an American Film Institute Award for their joint effort.

In addition to having honors bestowed on her for her video work, Woodson has received many awards for her writing. From the Notebooks of Melanin Sun and I Hadn't Meant to Tell You This were both Coretta Scott King Author Honor Books. Melanin Sun also earned the Jane Addams Peace Award, a Lambda Literary Award for Children's/Young Adult Fiction, and citation as an American Library Association Best Book for Young Adults. The House You Pass on the Way also received a Lambda Literary Award in the category of Children's/Young Adult Fiction. In addition, Woodson received the Kenyon Review Award for Literary Excellence in Fiction for Autobiography of a Family Photo, which also won a Lambda Literary Award for Lesbian Fiction.

Carla Williams

     

 
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Jacqueline Woodson in 2007. Photograph by David Shankbone.
  
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    Bibliography
   

McKinley, Catherine, and L. Joyce DeLaney, eds. Afrekete: An Anthology of Black Lesbian Writing. New York: Anchor Books, 1995.

Ruff, Shawn Stewart. "Introduction." Go the Way Your Blood Beats: An Anthology of Lesbian and Gay Fiction by African-American Writers. Shawn Stewart Ruff, ed. New York: Henry Holt, 1996: 22-28.

 

    Citation Information
         
    Author: Williams, Carla  
    Entry Title: Woodson, Jacqueline  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
 
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated March 9, 2010  
    Web Address www.glbtq.com/literature/woodson_j.html  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
 
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2002, New England Publishing Associates  
 

 

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