by Clara Burghelea
Jacqueline Woodson was the kind of child who wrote on everything and everywhere. She was not sure about becoming a writer, but she had this urge to write. Eventually, this lead to something: 32 books.
When she climbs on the stage of Thomas Dixon Lovely Ballroom of the Adelphi University campus, she looks comfortable in her own skin, smiling and gracious. She speaks briefly of her time as an Adelphi student and then about her books, how all of them changed her in the way she wanted to change the word, reader by reader. How can one achieve such a noble goal as a writer? She tries to reach out to her audience, going to the communities, schools, and libraries and sharing her story. When it comes to her books, she confesses she keeps going back to the plots and the characters. In her mind, she is still rewriting them.
When she starts reading from “Another Brooklyn”, she has a soft-spoken, childlike voice that feels like caressing the words. Past the characters and the language, she is deeply emerged in her writing. Love exults from the way she utters the words and modulates her voice. It sounds like a lullaby sung in a low tone:
“For a long time, my mother wasn’t dead yet. Mine could have been a more tragic story. My father could have given in to the bottle or the needle or a woman and left my brother and me to care for ourselves—or worse, in the care of New York City Children’s Services, where, my father said, there was seldom a happy ending. But this didn’t happen. I know now that what is tragic isn’t the moment. It is the memory. .”
Back to the 80s when she was a student at Adelphi, she wrote poetry yet never imagined she was going to hear people call her a poet one day. “Poetry was a language a couple of dead guys knew”, she said, convinced it was not her place. But she kept on writing. She says it is tough to be a writer and have your work marketed and labeled to fit all kinds of audiences. But if you do it for the right reasons, nothing stops you. Otherwise, moneywise, you are in the wrong line of work. Just think of those moments of frustration when you hit a wall –no such thing as a writer’s block- and come to believe it is the worst thing you’ve ever written. In her words, it is “the place where the book falls apart”.
In a small gathering after lunch, she encourages everyone to ask her questions. Students are shy and out of words because she has such a confident, almost intimidating manner of looking at them. One by one, they fall for her smile and start talking. She nods and they get encouraged and she has to remind them of the question. Everyone’s curiosity revolves around how to make it and be successful. She pauses, smiles and her eyes warmly envelop the room: “Read, read, and then read some more.”