Jacqueline Woodson

Photo of Jacqueline Woodson

Photo: © Marty Umans

About the Author

“Its such a scary time to be anything ‘other’ in this world. Every character I write about is in some way outside of the mainstream—black, working-class poor white, a pregnant teen, gay. The thing I want to do in my books is show people that there are only positive things to come from being different.”—Jacqueline Woodson

Jacqueline Woodson is a Coretta Scott King Honor Book winner, and many of her novels have been named ALA Notable Children’s Books and ALA Best Books for Young Adults.


Jacqueline Woodson began to consider becoming a writer when she was chosen to be the literary editor of a magazine in the fifth grade. Eventually, three books helped convince her to make writing her career: The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison, Daddy Was a Number Runner by Louise Meriwether, and Ruby by Rosa Guy. Before reading these books, Woodson thought that only books featuring mainstream, white characters, or works by William Shakespeare constituted valid literature. But in these three books, Woodson saw parts of herself and her life, and realized that books could be about people like her—and she knew she wanted to write them.

Now a critically acclaimed author, Woodson writes about characters from a variety of races, ethnicities, and social classes. Woodson says, “There are all kinds of people in the world, and I want to help introduce readers to the kinds of people they might not otherwise meet.” Woodson’s books also feature strong female characters and she often writes about friendship between girls. “Girls rarely get discussed in books and films,” she says, “and I want to do ‘girl stories’ that show strong, independent people.”

Woodson might be describing herself when she uses words like “strong” and “independent.” Even though it isn’t always easy for her to write about the serious issues she does, she feels as though she has no other choice: “I can’t write about nice, easy topics because that won’t change the world. And I do want to change the world—one reader at a time.” Changing the world means changing people’s attitudes about things like teen pregnancy, racial issues, sexual abuse, and class tension. Sometimes it’s difficult to do, but she considers it necessary work, so that her readers will be more aware of different types of people and be better equipped to effect change when they get older. For this same reason, Woodson travels often to schools and libraries, speaking about her literature and the important issues about which she writes. She says, “Grown-ups are jaded. Children are much more open-minded, and they have the power to change the world.”

Woodson’s books include The House You Pass on the Way and Lena. The House You Pass on the Way is the corning-of-age story of 13-year-old Staggerlee, who is confused by her feelings for her friend Hazel. This beautifully written novel explores questions about emerging sexuality with sensitivity and respect. It also examines racial tension and the legacy of violence. Lena is the companion to the Coretta Scott King Honor–winning I Hadn’t Meant to Tell You This, a complex and haunting story about sexual abuse and the healing power of friendship. Woodson again delivers a thoughtful and honest exploration of incest and abuse in an affecting novel,

Born on February 12, 1963, in Columbus, Ohio, Woodson grew up in Greenville, S.C., and Brooklyn, N.Y., and graduated from college with a B.A. in English. A former drama therapist for runaways and homeless children in New York City, she now writes full-time. Woodson also enjoys reading the works of emerging writers and encouraging young people to write; heated political conversations with her friends; and sewing.



—A Coretta Scott King Honor Book
—An ALA Best Book for Young Adults
—An ALA Notable Children’s Book
—A Booklist Children’s Editors’ Choice
—A Horn Book Fanfare

“A quiet, beautiful friendship story. . . . This brief novel is controlled, each chapter like a film cut, with its own tight structure and falling beat. . . . The casual dialogue is sharp with pain, soft with affection; as much is said in the spaces between the words as in what is spoken.”—Starred, Booklist

“Woodson’s poignant prose deftly understates issues of race, abuse, and loss.”—Starred, Kirkus Reviews

“This exceptional book . . . raises questions for which society has no answers.”—Starred, School Library Journal

“Wrenchingly honest . . . full of hope and inspiration.”—Starred, Publishers Weekly

“A haunting and beautifully poetic novel.”—Starred, The Horn Book Magazine

“Woodson writes with a sure understanding of the thoughts of young people, offering a poetic, eloquent narrative that is not simply a story of nearly adolescent children, but a mature exploration of grown-up issues: death, racism, independence, the nurturing of the gifted black child and, most important, self-discovery.”—The New York Times Book Review

“This simply told, finely crafted sequel to Last Summer with Maizon neatly avoids predictability while offering a perspective on racism and elitism rarely found in fiction for this age group.”—Starred, Publishers Weekly

“[Woodson] gently probes questions regarding racism and homosexuality in this poignant tale about growing pains and the ongoing process of self-discovery.”—Starred, Publishers Weekly

“The reader feels grateful that Woodson has whispered her lyrical story to us.”—Starred, The Horn Book Magazine

“Woodson takes the story . . . and connects it with every outsider’s coming-of-age.”—Booklist

“Richly layered. . . . Notable both for its quality and for the out-of-the-way places it goes.”—School Library Journal

“Lyrically written, Staggerlee’s search for self will resonate with many young readers.”—Recommended, The Bulletin

“The characterizations are rich, warm, and memorable; Woodson draws a frank, realistic picture of a community of African-American women who thrive while bravely confronting a myriad of problems and life situations. . . . A strong, original, and life-affirming book.”—Kirkus Reviews

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Jacqueline Woodson Also Contributed To

Author Essay

An Interview with Jaqueline Woodson
Preview Magazine, Spring 2002

What do you have to have by you to write?

Paper, a good pen, sometimes my dog. Having lots of quiet surrounding me is always nice.

Where do you write?

Wherever I can and on anything that’s handy.

What time of day do you get your best ideas?

My ideas come to me all times during the day and night. I write best in the mornings.

Describe your writing uniform.


Whom do you share your writing with first?

My girlfriend, Juliet. My friends Toshi and Teresa and then my writing group.Do you read reviews of your own work?Sometimes, and only the good ones.

What are you reading right now?

Nothing. I’m taking a long-needed break from reading and writing. Feels strange—good strange.

What was your favorite book as a child?

Some of my favorite books were No Roses For Harry, Zeely, Chicken Soup With Rice, and Stevie by John Steptoe was an all-time favorite.What was the first book you remember reading, or being read to you, as a child?I remember my big sister reading Hans Brinker and the Silver Skates— I think that was the name of it. I didn’t really like it.

When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

From the time I was about ten, although I was writing poetry and stories when I was seven.

What were you doing when you found out that your first book was accepted for publication?

I was working two jobs and hoping that would change.

What did you treat yourself to when you received your first advance check?

Probably dinner.

Tell me about writing Hush.

It was hard. It was a very different story for me. It gave me headaches at times and sometimes it was really rewarding. I’m glad it’s done and that Evie/Toswiah and her family are okay. Once I’ve written the book, I try to put as much of the writing experience of that particular work behind me so that I can move on. As I said before, right now I’m moving on to a break—thank goodness —and then, maybe in the new year, I’ll get back to writing. I think writing Hush really exhausted me.

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