Great news! The Library of Congress recently inaugurated and honored the 6th National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature – author extraordinaire: Jacqueline Woodson!
Ms. Woodson penned the National Book Award winning memoir in verse, Brown Girl Dreaming. Additional awards include four Newbery honors for: Brown Girl Dreaming (2016); After Tupac and d Foster (2009); Feathers (2008); and Show Way (2006). Two Coretta Scott King award winning narratives authored by Woodson are: Each Kindness (2012) and Brown Girl Dreaming (2016). Other awards designated for Ms. Woodson include the Charlotte Zolotow Award, Bank Street Best Books, the Sibert Award (Informational Text), and a Jane Addams’ Book Award (social justice and peace) for Each Kindness (2012). No wonder Ms. Woodson is also the recipient of the Margaret A. Edwards Lifetime Achievement Medal, given to authors whose total body of work constitutes a “significant and lasting contribution to young adult literature.”
Having served from 2015-17 as the Young People’s Poet Laureate for the National Poetry Foundation (with the mission of raising awareness as to the fact young people have a natural receptivity to poetry and are its most appreciative audience), Ms. Woodson joins an elite group of former ambassadors: Jon Scieszka, Katherine Paterson, Walter Dean Myers, Kate DiCamillo and Gene Luen Yang. Her adopted platform as Ambassador will be an equation: Reading = Hope X Change (for your time). “Good literature asks the reader questions about the moment they are in” Ms. Woodson recently told an audience at the Library of Congress. Associated equations include: Reading = Freedom; Me + You = Conversation; and Hope – Fear = Change. When a child reads, Ms. Woodson notes, change is capable in the reader’s heart, hands, and head. “Books change us and help us see worlds and identities never met before,” she adds.
Ms. Woodson’s body of work no doubt asks tough questions about such social ills as bullying and incarceration, as well as shared struggles, for example, mixed race experiences. The 2018-19 Ambassador hopes to hold many “salons” and conversations about her books, and these issues, in “out-of-the-way” or seldom visited venues, such as juvenile detention centers, group homes, and rural parts of Southern states, “engaging people where they are.” Part of that engagement will include sharing stories in all accessible formats: “by ear, by creation, by book, or by tablet.”
Realizing she wanted to pursue a career as a writer at the age of seven, our new Ambassador found many roles models (and mirrors) in her youth and beyond: Virginia Hamilton and Mildred Taylor, Nikki Giovanni and Langston Hughes, Toni Morrison and Gwendolyn Brooks. From these giants, she learned not only the craft of writing, but also the art of activism. Throughout her journey as National Ambassador, she will encourage young readers to “find the books that tell the stories we need to hear.” Along the way, she surely will encourage some budding writers of her own, those who need only “paper, pen, and imagination” to tell another story steeped in “great possibility.”
Most importantly, Woodson’s message to all learners, of all ages, and in all places, will be: “Brilliance is passion recognized and celebrated. Adults: Do not kill that fire. Children: Do not let that passion be murdered.”