This fall children’s book author Jacqueline Woodson, who is finishing a two-year term as National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature and is a recipient of the 2018 Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award and the 2018 Children’s Literature Legacy Award, among other honors, will publish her second novel for adults, Red at the Bone (Riverhead, Sept.). The story follows two black families from different social classes, who are joined by an unexpected pregnancy. Moving back and forth in time, the book explores how the decisions of the young people in each family have long-lasting consequences.
“I feel that the characters have been with me for decades, and I’ve finally figured out how to put them in a book,” says Woodson. The impetus, she adds, came from “wanting to know more about the 1920 Tulsa race massacre and wanting to talk about the black middle class. Family is something I’ve always written about.”
Another Brooklyn, Woodson’s 2016 debut adult novel, told the story of four girls and their friendship. “That’s where I live,” says Woodson, “in the adolescent mindset—I think about what it means to be a black girl at a particular moment in time. When I learned about the Tulsa massacre, I thought about how that story hasn’t been told in a mainstream way. It’s not the whole focus of Red at the Bone, but it’s kind of the inciting incident.”
Woodson says that the novel addresses “how we belong, how we love, how we create family and hold on to it, and how we let go. But you know what they say: the book knows more than you do about what it’s trying to say. I believe that people coming to the book are going to get something entirely different than what I think I’m putting out. Because we’re each meeting it halfway through our own backstory and our own experiences in the world.”
Woodson credits bookstores with helping her hone her craft. “I have so many bookstores that I love and different memories from each of them,” she says. “I remember when I went into bookstores where no one was waiting to hear me read, and I’ve read at bookstores where it was packed. I think all of them have helped me become the writer I am.”
This is Woodson’s fifth BookExpo; her first took place in 2005, when it was still called ABA. “We were handing out free copies of Show Way [Woodson’s first book based on her own family history] to anyone who wanted them, and I don’t remember the line being super long,” she says.
Today, 4:30–6 p.m. Jacqueline Woodson will appear at the Happy Hour signing at the ABA Member Lounge (2962).