Jacqueline Woodson is becoming quite the living literary legend.
She will visit Cedar Rapids Friday evening as the second speaker in the 2018 Out Loud! Author Series presented by the Metro Library Network. The event is free. Woodson will arrive after a trip to Sweden where she accepted the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award, the world’s largest children’s book award.
Woodson, calling by phone from the airport just before boarding the plane, acknowledged it is quite the honor.
“It’s an international award, considered the Little Nobel Prize,” she said. “It’s really a high honor.”
When it comes to high honors, Woodson should be well versed in accepting them by now. She won the 2014 National Book Award for her New York Times best-selling memoir in verse “Brown Girl Dreaming.” She also is recipient of the Coretta Scott King Award (twice!), a Newbery Honor Award, the NAACP Image Award, and the Sibert Honor Award. Her New York Times best-selling novel “Another Brooklyn” was a 2016 National Book Award Finalist. In 2015, she was named Young People’s Poet Laureate by the Poetry Foundation. This year she is serving as 2018 Ambassador for Young People’s Literature through the Library of Congress. Phew!
Woodson has written some 30 books — with more than two dozen named award-winners — for young adults, children and adults. She has two new works — a middle grade novel and a picture book — hitting shelves later this fall.
She said she enjoys engaging with her readers.
“I like the opportunity to interact with readers and hear what people think about my work and what they think about the world. Engaging with strangers can sometimes be fun,” she said.
But Woodson said she can’t tell attendees what to expect.
“They can expect a reading, definitely expect me to speak, and expect Q&A but I never know truly what to expect until I get in the room and see who is there. My audiences are usually pretty mixed with young people and adults. I respect that and I usually figure out how to make it work for everyone there.”
She also likes to talk about what’s going on in the world.
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“Who knows what’s going to happen in the world in the next couple of days and who knows what will be relevant,” she said. “The reason I don’t like to write speeches is that things can change in a minute and conversations change with it.”
While she’s a writer by nature, Woodson has really hit her stride as a speaker and literature advocate.
“It’s important to keep a conversation going,” she said
“One thing literature does is push boundaries and takes us outside of our comfortable boxes into places we don’t even know we want to be until we get there and find the joy in that other space. I’m grateful to have gotten this kind of recognition, but I’m grateful to be able to walk into these rooms and have these conversations with folks,” she said.
Her literary accolades have taken her to every state and several countries; something she said informs her as a writer.
“The travel keeps me in touch with a different part of my writer self, which is the audience and engaging with the audience,” she said. “As a writer you can be really isolated, creating worlds by yourself. So when you got out in the world and meet people and have these conversations, I begin to see the impact it has had on the world and that’s really exciting.”
Of course, all the traveling takes her away from writing.
“The travel makes you more disciplined, too,” she said, noting that she’s always happy to get back home to Brooklyn, N.Y., and her family. “When I’m talking about writing I’m not writing. So when I sit down to write I really focus on the writing.”
The writing is a learning process she said.
“I always say that I don’t write to teach. I write because I am trying to learn,” she said. “And I love when a story comes to me and I am able to get it on the page and the characters start forming and I’m able to take them on a journey. But sometimes the stories know more than we do about what they are trying to say. I love thinking I have a plan for a book and it not being the plan. That can be hard and painful sometimes but it’s also so rewarding.”
If you go
l What: Out Loud! Author Series presents Jacqueline Woodson
l When: 7 p.m. Friday
l Where: The Hotel at Kirkwood Center, 7725 Kirkwood Blvd. SW, Cedar Rapids
l Cost: Free; preregistration is requested at Metrolibrarynetwork.org/outloud/