- Jacqueline Woodson: The Real Thing, and: On Writing for Children and Other People
"For the past forty-seven years I have devoted most of my time and energy to writing. For the most part I cannot say I have enjoyed it" (7), writes Julius Lester—a rather startling revelation to open a reflection on a writer's life.
"I loved the power of . . . being able to put a letter on the page and that letter meaning something. It was the physical act of writing for me that happened first" (4), suggests Jacqueline Woodson in an early citation in Lois Thomas Stover's biography, creating a distinctly different tone.
And there, in a way, are the bookends that these two works mark. Though Julius Lester writes about his childhood past and his movement into story, both oral and written, On Writing for Children and Other People is a work that looks backward at a career that, he acknowledges, may be coming to an end. This despite his new book, Day of Tears (Hyperion, 2005). On the other hand, Stover's biography, though it will say much about Jacqueline Woodson as the mature writer and her amazing productivity in several different genres, is a work that looks forward to a looming career as one of the major American voices in children's and young adult literature. This suggested most recently in her Coming on Home Soon (G. P. Putnam, 2004).
In Jacqueline Woodson: "The Real Thing," the first full-length, critical work on the author, Lois Thomas Stover uses interviews with Woodson (her own and those of others) and close readings and analyses of Woodson's young adult and middle grade novels to offer insights into Woodson's work as a writer. Tracing Woodson's journey toward becoming a published author, Stover places into tension Woodson's parallel lives: the private fears of the citizen and mother living in twenty-first-century America, and the public face of the author resolving to provide hope and power for a generation of young readers and writers. To give her readers "the chance to find strong role models," Stover argues, Woodson draws connections between characters, and between characters and readers, "across all manner of boundaries designed to keep them apart" (19); she does this, Stover suggests, through emphasizing themes of powerlessness and invisibility, homelessness, friendship, and individualism. Stover sees this dispelling of stereotypes as a major thrust and purpose in Woodson's work. [End Page 450]
Julius Lester too speaks much about "boundaries designed to keep them apart" (104) in his reflections. He recalls the boundaries of his childhood—the spoken and unspoken taboos that existed between races and his use of language to push those taboos almost to the breaking point. He recalls the boundaries established by family backgrounds, and by varying faith traditions. They are the boundaries caused simply by the passing of years, by the passing on of old hatreds and anger, and by the knowledge that we do inevitably pass on ourselves: "Now there is only time to do all I would like to do, or even all I need to do" (104), he laments—his voice speaking for all of us.
But Julius Lester is the consummate storyteller, and even as he chronicles the prevalence of boundaries—the same ones to which Woodson speaks—he argues that one way of rupturing boundaries is through the voice of the storyteller. "I have a fantasy that peace will come to the Middle East only when small groups of Jews and Arabs sit in circles and tell each other stories about who they are and what they do and who their parents and grandparents were" (73). The boundaries between individual lives can, both Lester and Woodson agree, be overcome by story. For Lester, even the seemingly impenetrable boundaries of time can be so overcome: "It is through story that I share my knowledge of past as present, of past as presence, of past as evermore" (45), he...