In her three-plus decades writing books for young readers, Jacqueline Woodson has earned an impressive array of accolades, including the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, four Newbery Honors, three Coretta Scott King awards, and a stint as the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature. Her next book, the middle grade novel Remember Us (Penguin/Paulsen, Oct.), follows the lives of teens living in Bushwick, Brooklyn, during a summer when the neighborhood becomes known as “the matchbox.”
“It’s something I’ve wanted to write about—the fires that were taking place in Brooklyn and the Bronx in the ’70s and early ’80s,” Woodson says. “It was a part of my life that stayed with me.”
In Remember Us, Sage—who is passionate about basketball and questioning what it means to be a “girl”—befriends Freddie, the new kid on the (literally burning) block. Against the backdrop of a rapidly changing neighborhood, Sage reflects on her blossoming friendship with Freddie and the memories they’ll take with them as they move forward.
Woodson says Brooklyn, where she has set previous works including Brown Girl Dreaming and the adult novel Red at the Bone, is “evergreen. For me, it’s always there and it’s always changing.”
Drawing on her memories of watching New York neighborhoods evolve, she developed the narrative while navigating the many shifts that came with the pandemic. The author typically writes at home, and with family around more often, she had to adjust her work routine. “I was really having to find the places to let my mind go into the story.” She wrote the book as a series of brief vignettes. “It’s Sage looking back at this moment in her life, and also me in a different physical space, thinking about writing in a different way.”
Remember Us continues Woodson’s working relationship with Nancy Paulsen, president and publisher of Nancy Paulsen Books and Woodson’s longtime editor, who, the author says, “sees and understand what I’m writing and asks the big questions.”
With more than 40 books under her belt, Woodson turns to the young people in her life to keep her “on my toes and thinking about everything from language to the clothes I wear.” This intergenerational connection and community helps her remain inspired to write and in tune with readers.
“You can’t just say ‘my way or the highway’ because it’s ever-changing,” she says. “You can’t be stagnant as an adult.”
Jacqueline Woodson will deliver the children’s and YA lunchtime keynote on Wednesday, May 24, 12:05–12:35 p.m.