Writer Jacqueline Woodson is again a finalist for the National Book Award, this time in the fiction category, for her latest — 'Another Brooklyn.' Her work is read all over the country. But her writing, especially in the last two books, has been inspired by the borough she has long called home. She joined Budd Mishkin for this One on 1 Profile.
"As a kid I got in trouble for lying a lot," Woodson said. "I had a teacher who said 'instead of lying write it down cause then it's fiction.'"
Jacqueline Woodson has been writing it down for a long time, to the delight of her many fans.
And even maybe one day her children.
"My daughter sneak reads my work," Woodson said. "I caught her sneak reading brown girl dreaming. Cause she is too cool to read her mom's work. I'm looking for the day when she comes and says 'Wow, I liked it.'"
Woodson is an acclaimed author primarily of young adult novels.
She's won four Newbery Awards for distinguished contribution to literature for Children.
She won a 2014 National Book Award for Brown Girl Dreaming, a memoir that uses poetry and verse to describe her early years growing up in Brooklyn and South Carolina.
But the awards meant little as she sat down to write her latest work, "Another Brooklyn."
"Even in my office at home I have all my awards a bunch of them on the wall behind me because I don't want to look at them as something that's going to happen, they happened, you know and they have nothing to do with this book."
Another Brooklyn is a novel set in the Bushwick of her youth.
It is the story of four girls and friendship.
Much of it focuses on the power of memory.
But the muscle memory of writing — I've done this before and I can do it again — didn't help her write "Another Brooklyn."
"The muscle memory is dangerous because it's the muscle memory for those books, right so we go back do you want to paint a 'Starry Night' again right?" she said. "Do you want to tell that same story over and over and I don't , I want to break some new ground somehow."
Mishkin: Are there moments of 'Can I do this?'
"Every single book is a can I do it moment, because you haven't written that book."
Woodson lives in Park Slope with her partner and two children.
She owns the building where she grew up in Bushwick, where she is still right at home.
The dedication in Another Brooklyn reads: "For Bushwick, 1970-1990. In Memory."
"It is important to know where you live, it's important to know where you came from we need that history, and I think we live in a world that wants to forget history," Woodson said. "And for me I am not letting Bushwick be forgotten. "
Woodson has found that the public's perception of the neighborhood in those years and her personal memories are vastly different.
"When I was researching Bushwick, it was heartbreaking because all I saw was the devastation, the fires, the gangs, the looting when the blackout happened. I couldn't find any positive representations of this neighborhood that I had so many positive connections to as a young person."
"They would call you out when you were misbehaving, or they would get on the phone and call your parents. There was really a way in which people looked out for each other."
Her parents split up when she was young.
Woodson was five when she moved to Brooklyn from Greenville, South Carolina with her mother, a single Mom.
"She had come here by way of the great migration and that's its own dream right?" she said. "That's part of the American dream to get to a place where you have more opportunity than the south and better opportunity for your children."
"You wanted to show the people you've made it because that's what you went to the north to do, right? To have a better life. If you come back home broken, you failed."
Each summer in the 1970s, Woodson would return to South Carolina for summer vacation.
Officially, segregation was no longer the law of the land.
But the reality was different.
"In the north I was getting taught about Jim Crow, I was getting taught that was something of the past," Woodson said. "And then I would go down south and, no it isn't. So living in both those worlds was really interesting."
Woodson was seven when she decided she wanted to become a writer.
A library around the corner served as her after school home away from home until her mother came home from work.
Woodson was chosen to be literary editor of her school magazine in fifth grade at PS 106 in Bushwick, and again in 11th grade at Bushwick High School.
There was an early passion for reading and writing, and a seriousness of purpose.
"I was studying the text and I was really wanting to deeply understand not only how the story unfolded but how the author told the story," she said. "Even though I didn't know that's what I was doing."
She was influenced by a disparate group of writers — Judy Blume, James Baldwin, Toni Morrison, and Mad Magazine.
"It was really smart, and it was really smart masquerading as something that wasn't," Woodson said. "So I think adults didn’t get it because they were like what is this junk you're reading but as young people were like 'Oh we are pulling the wool over your eyes with this one because there’s some deep stuff going on.'"
Woodson graduated from Adelphi University on Long Island in 1985 and quickly got a job with a book packaging company, where she found her agent.
In 1989, she published her first novel.
But there were other jobs before she was able to write full time.
"At that time I was also writing standardized tests," Woodson said. "I was writing copy for reading comprehension, so I apologize."
Writing had always been her passion.
Rather quickly, it became her full time job, much to her mother's chagrin.
"She couldn't quite figure out how I was sitting at home and making these books and getting paid for it, I mean because that's a complicated thing right for someone on the outside to understand," Woodson said.
The writer who would write plenty of plot lines could not foresee her own.
"I thought I was going to be this kind of writer who wrote but who didn't get known for her writing, so it's surprising," she said.
Perhaps she is surprised by her level of fame because she saw plenty of people with potential in her old neighborhood.
"I always say you throw a stone in Bushwick you could probably hit ten Jacqueline Woodsons," she said. "I was one of the ones who was able to publish and was able to get a college education and was able to kind of get out and had some lucky breaks and all of that and loved writing every day and got my writing nurtured."
Woodson says it is dangerous to get complacent, but she is starting to appreciate that her work has had an impact, especially when she brings her books and medals on school visits, and sees young people sitting where she once sat.
"In that I can say this is this is what I've done and look now here's the future I'm creating, I'm helping create because of the books I've written and maybe one day their name will be on the back of these medals. So that, I feel like through that extension I can see the work I've done."