Renée Watson, best known as the author of Piecing Me Together, a YA novel that received the 2017 Coretta Scott King Award and a Newbery Honor, has written 20 books for children. In her forthcoming middle grade novel-in-verse, All the Blues in the Sky (Bloomsbury, Feb. 2025), Watson embraces unwieldy emotions. Sage’s friend has just died unexpectedly, and she wades through her grief with the help of her family and a support group. We spoke with Watson about writing in prose, the power of community, and holding space for all Black children’s emotions.

All the Blues in the Sky is written in verse. Why did this story feel suited for that format?

Poetry can be a container for heavy emotions. I felt like writing in verse would help the reader hold their emotions, as opposed to prose, which is a lot more words on the page. Poetry felt like the best way to tell this story, especially because of the theme of grief and sadness. I wanted it to move a little quicker.

Where did the character of Sage come from?

I’m fortunate enough to have close friends and family who speak openly about loss and moving through it. I was taking a lot of those conversations and putting them into Sage and the scenarios with the girls and her grief group. She’s a compilation of several people in my life, and I didn’t necessarily interview them, but I listened as they were processing. I think I was taking notes unknowingly.

How does community function in Sage’s healing process?

Community becomes an anchor for her. This keeps her from drowning and being overwhelmed, and it acts as a touchpoint of hope and solace when so much is changing for her. I think it’s helpful for anyone who’s grieving to have something that is solid and steady and not going anywhere. These are the people you can come back to time and time again. The support also pushes her to keep dreaming and living and having fun and laughing and going out for ice cream. The people in her life are not only a sounding board for her pain but also help her understand that she can hold many things at once.

Why was it important to showcase that Black children, particularly Black girls, have a full range of emotions that should be respected throughout their grieving process?

We are complex, nuanced humans, and we have a range of emotions. Anger is a normal reaction to losing someone, and so is sadness. I feel like sometimes Black girls get penalized for having an emotion, and we’re telling them the only way they can show up is to be happy and placate society. I want to push back against that. I want to help us all be more comfortable with feelings that are not happiness, excitement, or joy. There should be room for all of it.

Sometimes Black girls get penalized for having an emotion... I want to push back against that.

What’s next for you?

This year is the year of new work for me. The poetry collection Black Girl You Are Atlas [Kokila], illustrated by Ekua Holmes, came out in February. In May I have two books: Summer Is Here [Bloomsbury], illustrated by Bea Jackson, about a girl enjoying the first day of summer, and Skin & Bones [Little, Brown], my debut adult novel. I have a picture book biography, Cicely Tyson [Amistad], illustrated by Sherry Shine, coming out in November. All these stories feel like they’re in conversation. I see them all talking to each other about joy and holding pain and change and trauma, and legacy and loss. It’s all there within these books, and I’m really proud of them.

Reneé Watson will give the breakfast keynote on Tuesday, June 11, 7:45–8:45 a.m.

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