Thursday, June 25, 2009

Jaqueline Woodson: CORA Diversity Roll Call

Ali writes: June is officially Gay Pride Month in the U.S., so I thought we'd take the opportunity this week to look at some books by gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, or queer (GLBTQ) authors, and/or that deal with GLBTQ issues. Do this in whatever way suits you best

For my post, I’m focusing on my YA hero, Jacqueline Woodson. Seriously, people, my admiration and love for this writer’s work borders girl crush. Ms. Woodson is prolific and talented; she is the standard to aim for.

Ms. Woodson is my favorite YA author for many reasons; two include her ability to examine stereotypes without banging the reader over the head, and her insights are subtle but poignant. The author is lesbian, African American and a parent. Now I don’t know many authors with this combination of experiences and identity in the YA field of writers. I think her experiences allow her to identify on many levels in ways that come across authentic to a broad spectrum of readers.

When Ms. Woodson explores race and sexual orientation, it’s always in the context of personal relationships. Her language and the dialogue between characters aren’t political but intimate and this matters. It is much easier to examine social mores and societal norms in the context of our personal lives. I think so anyway. In Woodson’s work, race and sexual orientation are integral elements of the work but they never overwhelm a story. The stories are always about the character’s growth and ability to address conflicts both internal and external. In other words, she doesn’t preach. She nudges young people to examine their own ideas and feelings on their terms.

Ms. Woodson is a prolific writer (22 titles to date) and I intend to read her entire collection. Below is a short list of what I have read and a brief annotation for each.

The House You Pass On The Way- Stagerlee negotiates feelings of her place among her family, how she feels about the legacy of her grandparents and questioning her budding sexuality.

From The Notebooks of Melanin Sun- Melanin is beautifully, wonderfully dark. He and his mother have a close and strong bond. This summer he has his first real crush. His mother falls in love, too. When she tells him she loves a woman, a white woman no less, they struggle to come to terms how this new person fits in their world.

Locomotion- Lonnie lost his parents in a fire. His teacher introduces him to poetry and Lonnie expresses his frustrations, his love for his sister and his dream for them to be reunited.

The Dear One- Feni lives with her professional mom, is adjusting to being away from her estranged dad and if that wasn’t enough, her mother tells her they're having a house guest for a few months: her mom’s friend’s pregnant daughter. Feni has a lot to learn about her own stereotyping and herself.

If You Come Softly
- Miah and Elly fall in love. It’s first love and like first love there are pangs but for this interracial couple race isn’t the only issue they have to tackle.

After Tupac and D. Foster – Like many parents I didn’t understand the appeal of hip hop or this icon. Woodson illustrates why the musical icon and the culture matter so much to a generation. Three young girls with distinct personalities and different family backgrounds discover more about themselves as they leave the innocence of childhood behind.

To read more entries celebrating LBGTQ literature see Ali's post at Worducopia. Join us by writing a post of your own and dropping us a link. I love talking about Woodson's work. Any questions?


Ali said...

See this is one reason we do this: I had no idea Woodson was a lesbian and hadn't made the connection that sexual identity was a recurring theme in her books. I'm so looking forward to reading my first Woodson book. I've got From the Notebooks of Melanin Son on my GLBT Challenge reading list, maybe I'll add another of hers to the list, too, after reading your raves about her. Thanks!

Shalonda said...

Thanks so much for this post! I learned so much about Jacqueline and her novels.

Color Online said...

Hi Ali and Shalonda,
Glad to hear you enjoyed the post. Woodson rocks. I've read about half her titles. What I didn't touch on include: Feathers, I Hadn't Meant To Tell You This, Lena and Madison at Blue Hill.

Doret said...

My favorite Woodson novel is Hush, probably because it was my first. I love the care Woodson takes with her words and characters.

Karen Strong said...

I LOVE this author. She is one of my favorites and has influenced my own writing. Great post.

Ana S. said...

I haven't reader her before, but after this post, how can I not?

Eva said...

You had me try her earlier this year, and I definitely want to read more! Great post! :)