The Alliance for the Study and Teaching of Adolescent Literature at Rhode Island College




- Jacqueline Woodson -

Jacqueline Woodson was born in Columbus, Ohio and grew up in Greenville, South Carolina and Brooklyn, New York. She is a full time writer who also enjoys reading the works of new authors and encouraging young people to write.

Woodson is a critically acclaimed author who "writes about characters from a variety of races, ethnic groups, and social classes. She states, "There are all kinds of people in the world, and I want to help introduce readers to the kinds of people they might otherwise not meet. Woodson also uses strong female characters in her books. She often writes about friendship between girls as she did in her book I Hadn't Meant to Tell You This. This book also expounds upon the theme of the very real issue of sexual abuse in our society. She followed this book with the wonderful and sensitive, Lena, in which she tells the further details in Lena's life.

Woodson often tackles subject matter, such as sexual abuse and homosexuality which many other writers avoid or hesitate to address. She blends poignancy with realism in a manner that leaves readers eager to read more. She also has the tremendous gift of saying a great deal with just a few words. But the words she chooses are powerful!


I Hadn't Meant to Tell You This

I Hadn't Meant to Tell You This is one of Jacqueline Woodson's finest pieces of work. It is a riveting tale of two young girls who face death, racism, child abuse, and abandonment. They are an unlikely pair who, against all odds, find love and understanding through their friendship. They help each other survive some of the greatest tragedies that can fall upon a young person-- sexual abuse and the loss of a parent, either through death or abandonment. This book invites us to live their lives for a brief moment. we, as the readers enter their reality-- a reality that exists in every neighborhood in our country. We feel the love they have for each other and the fear that they live with. With them we try to hide the shame and grieve the loss. We cry tears for the girls and our hearts break when we truly realize this story could be and probably is true in the lives of many young girls. Jacqueline Woodson has achieved her goal. She has made the reader look closely at a reality that exists everywhere. In a world where true ugliness exists, she has allowed the reader to see what true friendship is-- a friendship that crosses both racial and social class boundaries. A friendship that frightens some people and inspires others. I Hadn't Meant to Tell You This is an exceptional book full of the fear, love, and hope of reality. It opens many doors of understanding and awareness for readers which they may choose to walk through or choose to ignore. Our hope is that all readers will accept the invitation to them by Jacqueline Woodson, Lena, and Marie.


Lena is a sequel to Jacqueline Woodson's book, I Hadn't Meant to Tell You This. It is about the journey of two sisters who choose to run away from their abusive father. Lena makes the choice to leave when she discovers that her father is starting to sexually abuse her younger sister, Dion. Although she had tolerated his abuse to her, she will not allow him to abuse Dion. Since poverty and neglect had also been home to them for years, Lena decides being on the run could not be much worse. The girls leave their only friend behind which was a very difficult decision for Lena. As they experience life on the run disguised as boys, they find loneliness and hunger a difficult companion. After many weeks on the road, the girls are befriended by an elderly lady who forces them to think of alternatives to the drastic lifestyle which has been forced on them. With this book, Woodson elaborates on Lena's life and the choices which she was forced to make. She does not sugar-coat the harshness or reality of life in this book. Rather, she offers a glimpse into an often unseen world for many young adult readers in the lives of Lena and her sister. Although Woodson writes with a true sense of realism, she offers readers hope, hope for a better future for all the Lena's in this world.

From the Notebooks of Melanin Sun

This is a 1996 Coretta Scott King Honor Book which is sensitively written about racism and homosexuality. Melanin Sun's story is written in notebooks, because many of his thoughts are easier to write than vocalize. This is Melanin Sun's transition from a boy to a young man. Melanin Sun lives with his mother in an apartment in New York City. Melanin is a unique individual who is interested in nature and all that it involves. But he is slowly becoming more and more interested in girls. Just as he has decided that a relationship with a girl is well worth pursuing, his mother informs him of her attraction and love for Kristen. The words, "I'm in love with Kristen," shatters his life and his belief in a straightforward world. He feels his mother is not his friend and confident any longer. As Melanin slowly emerges from the disgust an shame he feels toward his mother's homosexual relationship, he realizes that the love he feels for his mother is what is truly important. He recognizes that although he may have to sacrifice friendship, his mother is and always will be his mother. Melanin also deals with the issue of race, regarding Kristen, who is white. He learns to accept her as simply just another human being who is important to his mother. This is a moving and sensitive novel which will encourage readers to read more of her works.


1. What is your favorite/least favorite book that you have written?

I think one of my favorites is I Hadn't Meant to Tell You This. Maybe one day it'll be If You Come Softly but a book takes time to settle it seems.

2. How do you come up with ideas for your books? Do you write about personal experience?

My ideas come from conversations with friends, articles I've read, things I've been thinking about and sometimes from personal experience. I've never written a novel that's strictly autobiographical but there are places where I see myself and/or people I know in the books.

3. How do you structure information for your books? How long does it take to write a book?

I sit down and start writing. Sometimes, like with I Hadn't Meant to Tell You This, all I had was a voice (Lena's). Most times, I have a first sentence. I never know where a story is going nor how it will get there. I never outline nor do I do character sketches, etc. The novels are pretty organic. I sit down at my desk and hope for the best. Some books I've written have taken me many years to write (Autobiography of a Family Photo was a four year long project.) Other books, I've sat down and written the first draft in less than a month. But the first draft is never the last. I would say on an average, from beginning to end, a book takes about a year. I am usually working on more than one book at a time.

4. Who or what do you read? Who or what has influenced you?

I am reading an incredible book right now called Fall On Your Knees by a Canadian writer named Ann Marie McDonald. I don't read a lot of young adult stuff. I love James Baldwin, Hemingway, and Toni Morrison. I also love Ernest Gaines and Ann Lamott. All the writers I read influence me. Virginia Hamilton had a big influence on me as a child because Zeely was the first book I read by an African American. In retrospect, I do believe it helped me to believe I could one day be a writer.

5. When did you first want to become a writer? Why did you choose the young adult genre? How long did it take you to first get published?

I've wanted to be a writer since I was a kid. I remember writing a "collection" of poetry when I was about seven. It was a bunch of pages stapled together with poems about butterflies. I carried it around in my back pocket for a long time until my grandmother accidentally washed it one morning - and thus the collection is no longer in print. I didn't choose ya, it chose me. People said that's what I was writing and so I kept writing it. Even my adult stuff is told from the point of view of a young person. I guess that's where I found my voice. It didn't take long to get my first book published. Maybe about a year after the first draft was done.

6. How difficult is it to write sensitively about issues like race and prejudice as you do in I Hadn't Meant to Tell you This and Lena?

It's not difficult for me because it's how I live my life. I'm always talking about these issues with friends and relatives. It's just how my world is. It's a political world and in a political place, dialogues about race and class and religion and everything are constant. I think what's difficult is realizing through my writing how little the world has changed around race, how far we still have to go. But at the same time, I'm hopeful and the writing shows that hope as well - Well, I hope it does!

7. Why did you decide to continue Lena's story. Will you do a book about Maire's mother?

No book about Marie's mother. I decided to continue Lena's story when I kept getting letters from young people asking what happened. I must have gotten over a hundred. It made me realize I still had work to do.

8. There are so many issues raised and addressed in The Dear One, such as teenage pregnancy, alcoholism, homosexuality, single-parent families, the disparity between rich and poor. How did you interweave so much, so effectively in only 145 pages?

I can't believe it's that long. Most of my books are shorter. I think it's easy to do for the same reason as question six. Because it's my everyday.

9. From the Notebooks of Melanin Sun, is a great book! Are we going to hear more about Melanin and his adjustments to life and all that comes his way?

No. Melanin's all done. I feel that book is complete. I am writing about another boy though. Lafayette is 13 and coming into my writing mind with his own set of struggles. No homosexuality or anything. Just his everyday world. It's called "Lafayette's Weekend" and I'm excited about finishing it one day.

10. Do you select the topics you do in order to increase awareness in the young adult population?

The topics select me and while I hope to increase awareness (mainly my own) I try not to write from a didactic place. My hope is that people will enjoy the story and walk away from it thinking. I figure if people spent more time thinking about something other than themselves, they can begin to see the world as a bigger, more complicated place - grow to understand and embrace it.

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This web page was last updated on: 21 June 2007

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