The Poetry Foundation announced on Wednesday that Jacqueline Woodson had been named its Young People’s Poet Laureate for 2015 – 2016. According to the Foundation’s website, “The laureate advises the Poetry Foundation on matters relating to young people’s literature and may engage in a variety of projects to help instill a lifelong love of poetry among the nation’s developing readers. This laureateship aims to promote poetry to children and their families, teachers, and librarians over the course of its two-year tenure.”
Born in Columbus, Ohio, but raised in Greenville, South Carolina and then Brooklyn, New York (where her family moved to when she was seven), Ms.Woodson has, since her earliest memories, loved to write. In her official bio she says, “I wrote on everything and everywhere. I remember my uncle catching me writing my name in graffiti on the side of a building. (It was not pretty for me when my mother found out.) I wrote on paper bags and my shoes and denim binders. I chalked stories across sidewalks and penciled tiny tales in notebook margins. I loved and still love watching words flower into sentences and sentences blossom into stories.”
Her more than thirty books are written for children and young readers, often from an African American viewpoint. Her works are not issue-driven, but do speak to what she calls “universal questions” that children are a party to in their developing years and always have an element of hope to them. Among her many, many accolades are three Newbery Honors Awards, six Coretta Scott King Book Awards (given by the American Library Association) and the 2014 National Book Award for her book, Brown Girl Dreaming.
She currently lives in New York with her partner and two children.
Here is a sample of Ms. Woodson’s poetry, which she shared in a 2014 interview with A Teaching Life:
Some days, like today
and yesterday and probably
tomorrow all my missing gets jumbled up inside of me.
You know honeysuckle talc powder?
Mama used to smell like that. She told me
honeysuckle’s really a flower but all I know
is the powder that smells like Mama.
Sometimes when the missing gets real bad
I go to the drugstore and before the guard starts
following me around like I’m gonna steal something
I go to the cosmetics lady and ask her if she has it.
When she says yeah, I say
Can I smell it to see if it’s the right one?
Even though the cosmetics ladies roll their eyes at me
they let me smell it.
And for those few seconds, Mama’s alive
And I’m remembering
all kinds of good things about her like
the way she laughed at my jokes
even when they were dumb
and the way she sometimes just grabbed me
and hugged me before
I had a chance to get away.
And the way her voice always sounded good
and bad at the same time when she was singing
in the shower.
And her red pocketbook that always had some
tangerine Life Savers inside it for me and Lili
No, I say to the cosmetics lady. It’s not the right one.
And then I leave fast.
Before somebody asks to check my pockets
which are always empty ’cause I don’t steal.