Jacqueline Woodson on Finding Inspiration and Tackling Fear

Published on: Sep 20, 2019fb-roundtwitter-roundemail-round
Jacqueline Woodson

Words and authors go together like peanut butter and jelly. This week, in Words With Author Friends, we’re going deep with writer Jacqueline Woodson. You might know her as the National Book Award winning-author of 2014's "Brown Girl Dreaming" or for her prolific career as a writer (she has more than two dozen books to her name). Woodson's latest book, “Red at the Bone,” is out now.

Skimm your book for us.

I’m often praised for packing so much material into relatively short books, but trying to explain this novel in three sentences is beyond me.

 Where do you write and when?

Everywhere I can, as often as I can.

Tell us something readers don’t know about publishing a book…

After you write a book, a lot of people want you to write about writing a book.

You're hosting a book club: who's invited, what are you reading, and what are you drinking?

Ava Duvernay, James Baldwin, Ayelet Waldman, Min Jin Lee, Tayari Jones and a bunch of other people. We’re re-reading "Just Mercy" and then we’re planning to drink Chaos Theory from the Brown Estate Vineyard (Black-owned) and watch the Bryan Stevenson movie back-to-back with "When They See Us."

When you're looking for inspiration, you...

Close my eyes, put on a playlist, and try to remember something from the past.

Favorite opening line from a book?

So many. Today it’s: “It happened that green and crazy summer when Frankie was twelve years old.”

Editor's note: We'll take Carson McCullers' "The Member of the Wedding" for $400, Alex.

Favorite word? 

If I only had one favorite word, it’s doubtful I’d be a writer.

Least favorite word?

See above.

How do you deal with writer's block?

By not believing it exists. (It doesn’t.) That thing people have labeled ‘writer’s block’ is most likely ‘fear.’ So I call it what it is and then figure out what I’m afraid of.

What does success mean to you...

It means being happy, loved, sheltered, and fed.

Hardest career decision you’ve had to make…

A long time ago, I got invited to the White House but didn’t like the guy who was president. I was a youngish writer and thought it would impact my career. But I couldn’t go and show teeth for a man whose policies I didn’t believe in. I didn’t go. It didn’t impact my career. Years later, First Lady Michelle Obama invited me and I RAN there.

If you weren’t an author, you’d be…

Not living.

Best advice for an aspiring author... 

Write fearlessly.

Worst advice for an aspiring author...

Go into debt getting an MFA.

What would you die on a hill for?

Why would I have to die for something? Why can’t I LIVE for something?

What story can you not stop thinking about?

The one that’s happening right now - the one about children in cages.

One thing you’d tell your younger self...

Don’t throw away that fabulous collection of kicks because one day, instead of derisively being called a Sneaker Pimp, you’ll be admirably called a Sneaker Head.

Favorite book from your childhood?

Hans Christian Andersen's "The Little Match Girl" and Mildred D. Taylor's "Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry."

Book on your nightstand right now?

Ta-Nehisi Coates' "The Water Dancer," Ocean Vuong's "On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous" (re-reading), Ann Patchett's "The Dutch House," and Akilah Hughes' "Obviously: Stories from My Timeline."

Editor's note: "The Water Dancer," "The Dutch House," and "Obviously: Stories from My Timeline," are all out next week.

Who’s your favorite author to follow on insta?

I don’t really do that. I just stalk my teenage daughter and comment on her posts.

PS: This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. All opinions expressed by the interviewee are their own.

PPS: "Red at the Bone" is editorially selected, but if you purchase it, theSkimm may get something in return. Thanks.

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