Red at the Bone

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S1: This ad free podcast is part of your Slate Plus membership. This is live at Politics and Prose a program from Slate and Politics and Prose Bookstore in Washington D.C. featuring some of today’s best writers and top thinkers.

S2: It is now my pleasure to introduce Jacqueline Woodson author of Red at the bone and many others. Jacqueline Woodson is the best selling author of more than two dozen award winning books including the 2016 New York Times best selling National Book Award finalist for adult fiction another Brooklyn. Among her many accolades Woodson is a four time National Book Award finalist for time Newbery Honor winner a two time and delay C.P. Image Award winner and a two time Coretta Scott King Award winner. That’s a mouthful and I don’t think she’s done so. She lives with her family in New York. Read it the bone infused with her signature insight and rich poetic prose opens in 2001 in Brooklyn. The occasion is Melody’s coming of age ceremony charting the course of two families from different classes. Woodson’s affecting narrative tackles identity ambition desire and parenthood as well as exploring how the decisions young people make change generations to come. Terry Jones is quoted as saying Woodson brings the readers so close to her young characters that you can smell the bubblegum on their breath and feel their lips as they brush against your ear. Woodson will be in conversation with Lynn Neary longtime NPR arts correspondent. That said please join me in warmly welcoming Jacqueline Woodson and Lynn Neary to politics and life as.

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S3: Hello.

S4: So I’m going to read a short bit from Chapter Two of read at the bone. We’re just told from alternating points of view. And this is Aubrey the father of Melody who is having her coming of age ceremony.

S3: Can anyone hear me OK. His daughter was descending the stairs as the orchestra his in-laws had paid for played. She was taking each step as though the world had stopped for her as though this moment were the only moment on Earth with her in it. And she was fine as hell this girl. No this woman the seed of his this cry into the night this apology of a child. Iris I didn’t mean to them. I’m so so sorry when had it happened per with so much of Iris the cheekbones the slant of the eyes the smile with so much. What was that thing behind their smiles. Some long held secret about you both of them knowing you knowing what you’d been up to. As though they could see taste and smell it on you. Aubrey had seen that smile so many times over the past 14 no 15 16 years where were the years and still and still this moment with Melody walking toward them and this wack ass rendering of Prince filling the house re leaned back against the wall his hands felt unsure suddenly Iris had pressed hers to her mouth. But what is the father of the child supposed to do with his hands. His big open hands. Where were they supposed to go when all they wanted to do was reach out for his child hunger Hider from the world. These hands that had learned at seventeen how to snatch smelly diapers away from her tiny body rub and the ointment over her Rashed behind hold her until the singing stopped until the crying stopped. Hold her over his shoulder with his massive hand behind her fragile head then on his chest in his lap in his arms on his back both shoulders his hand on her shoulder as she scooted too fast away from him. Who was this now descending the stairs. This child he made and raised and loved got how he loved every single cell dividing the coarseness of her hair the deep vulnerable hollow in her neck the half moons beneath her nails those show how many boyfriends you’re going to have watch out world and her tears when they began to fade. Does that mean no one’s ever going to love me Daddy his baby girl was coming down those stairs and he was crying now outright and silently and no one had told him to do what to do with his hands as he slid them into his pockets I was shot him a look he pulled them out again quickly wiped out his eyes class behind him against the wall arms raised fingers laced on top of his head arms folded what was the right thing. How come he never knew the right thing to do.

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S5: Thank you Jackie land so you have an incredible career a long career writing literature for young people. I don’t know if everybody knows this but Jacqueline is the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature. I think your tenure is coming to a close.

S6: Thank you.

S5: You also won the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature for Brown Girl Dreaming your memoir and but your last book another Brooklyn and this one are written for adults.

S7: So first of all what made you want to make this shift so actually between another Brooklyn and read at the bone. I wrote a middle grade book harbor me and a picture book the day you began.

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S8: This woman is very proud. So I feel like I wanted to.

S7: I like all the worlds like I like writing for young people. I like writing picture books because this feels like I’m writing poetry. I like writing middle grey because I like the voice of 10 11 12 year olds and I like the gays that adult literature allows me the way I can kind of stand back and and look at it from all these different perspectives and also the way I can play with time and the way I can move characters along the age brackets right in with middle grade fiction and with picture books.

S9: The characters tend to stay at one a trade the person telling the story is ten or eleven with adult books like with another Brooklyn. The main character Auguste is in her 30s but she’s talking about a time when she was 15 but it’s an adult perspective because she’s in her 30s. So I just like all the worlds.

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S10: Well I think I see a connection between Brown Girl Dreaming and these books for adults and other Brooklyn and and read at the bone they’re really still all stories about young girls from Brooklyn. And you of course were a young girl from Brooklyn yourself. Why do you want to keep returning to that territory what do you mining in that that that place and those kinds of girls.

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S11: The thing about Brooklyn is you can write about it forever and it’s never gonna be the same place.

S12: It’s constantly changing.

S9: So if I’m writing about the Brooklyn of the 70s it’s different than the Brooklyn of the 80s which is different than the Brooklyn of the 90s and now I’m looking at someplace like what I write about in Bush Bushwick in another Brooklyn. I wrote that book because I wanted to explore the Columbus thing of a neighborhood right here was this neighborhood that had been when I was growing up in a black and Latino people and white people moving away. So as a neighborhood of white flight and then as I said at this point in time it’s now the hipster neighborhood and white folks are moving back into it. And so I’m writing about the same space but it’s very different. And that’s what’s interesting to me about New York in general and brooklyn in particular that you can write about a specific place at a specific time and then write about it again 10 years later and it be a completely different place and the people in it are different. So when you look at Sylvia Angela GJ in August and another Brooklyn they’re very different than melody in red at the bone even though they’re all black girls growing up in Brooklyn you know. So I can explore all of these different identities and know something deep about them and then have all this information that have not have all this information and know like nothing at all about some parts of their life.

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S13: Well there’s really two young girls and in this book because we know we meet Melody at the same age that we really meet her mother s and first time her mother is 15 when she becomes pregnant with Melody against her parents wishes she decides to keep the baby and everything reverberates out from that from that point really. And we see how that affects everybody in the family. And we learn so much about them going back in their history and then moving forward and into the present.

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S10: Why did you want to begin with that a 15 year old girl getting pregnant and making the decisions she made to keep the baby so it’s interesting.

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S14: It actually I feel like when the bomb begins with the Tulsa race massacre. Right.

S9: So so and then and then the other beginning is melodies coming of age ceremony this moment of arrival of having a ride somewhere. And within that moment it begins in the middle of it. So I don’t start it. You know Melody was coming down the stairs I started but that afternoon there was an orchestra playing because I’m very intentional about showing the reader that we step I’m dropping you into the middle of someone’s life right. And I think that’s the case for we’re in the middle of Iris’s life when she gets pregnant. You know we’re in the middle of Aubrey’s life when he realizes that his girlfriend is pregnant you know. And so I think it starts at so many different places.

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S15: Yeah. You know I have to say hesitated to use that word began. I didn’t think about that because it’s but it is the event that we move out with.

S9: It’s like a spoke that we moved out from or something that impacts everybody and that everybody. Yeah. And I just for as well I love Iris so much but also I think a lot of times when people think of young people getting pregnant they see it as an ending. And I I don’t. In that case I wanted to show this was the beginning of something else.

S10: Right. So I was wants this baby. But then once she becomes a mother she finds that perhaps it’s more than she really wanted to take on. And so the raising of this child really falls on the father. AUBREY And her and her parents as well. But again this is not a depiction that you often see.

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S13: You don’t see this depiction of a black man as the caretaker so often as you as you said you know it centers.

S14: I don’t think white folks see it a lot. I think I think it exists. And I think the the narrative is that black men don’t take care of their kids and they do. Yeah. And so I in read at the bone again I was very intentional about showing Yeah.

S12: This is someone who one of many many many black men who do take care of their children because I think the American narrative is a is a different story and often a lie when it comes to a lot of stuff about black folks but black fatherhood in particular.

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S10: Well I think you’re right about that. And I think that’s why it’s important to write that kind of character. And so you did do it very intentionally you that reason.

S11: Yeah. And also because I want it I feel like speak truth to power. I feel like um it’s important.

S9: It’s a family saga. Right. And I wanted to show all the characters and all their roles. I I I really wanted to paint a full picture of Aubrey and show that he was a loving fabulous dad that he was a loving man that he was a hard working man and that for him fatherhood and family was enough.

S16: Yeah you know to be able to provide for them wasn’t enough for Iris but for Aubrey he was he was happy you know he was he was he was a good guy and he was happy and he was a great father.

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S10: Yeah you used you called it a family saga and that’s how I have described it to a lot of people it’s a family saga. But I think when people hear the word that phrase they think of a big time. And this is not it’s a very slender book really but that’s because of the way you use language and this fairness of your language you you cut so close to your bureau your poet your prose is so much like poetry. Do you do you think do you think as a poet as you’re writing everything I write.

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S9: I read out loud so it has this look a certain way on the page and sound a certain way before I move on. And so I’m rewriting a lot and I’m honing the language a lot and I’m getting rid of a lot of adjectives to get to the essence of the story. And so yeah I do. I would say that that’s kind of the poetic side of my brain. And it’s also what I want. There’s an urgency to it. Right there’s an urgency to their lives that a lot of adjectives would get in the way of. So I do keep it spare.

S10: Yeah and I was just amazed at how much you were able to get into this story with this spare language. There’s a lot of history here as you mentioned the Tulsa massacre of 1921 which I did not know very much about. Yeah maybe I probably know nothing about it.

S9: No. A lot of people don’t. I think that’s an important point. I think a lot of.

S11: Okay. Raise your hand if you knew about the Tulsa race massacre. Raise your hand if you did not.

S17: You all know some of you Well I am but OK. But how much did you know anyway. You work this history into this into this book into this family saga.

S10: Tell us a little bit for those of us who don’t know very much about it. Tell us about it and how it fits into this story.

S7: So say be who is that grandmother who helps raise Melodie the 16 year old comes from a family that whose wealth was destroyed by the Tulsa race massacre which happened in 1921 where white folks basically came along and and destroyed this wealthy black community and they bombed it. They drop bombs. They shot up people they said house is on fire and the black businesses they burned them down and basically ran the black folks out of town. And I don’t know why we don’t learn about this in our history classes but it was one of the many times where black wealth are you know that aspirational wealth was you know cut off at the knees. And so say becomes from her her mother almost got killed. And the Tulsa race massacre. And she carries that history and that story into the next generation.

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S10: And also she and her husband create a really kind of an upper class life for themselves when they get to Brooklyn. Mm hmm. Yes. And maintaining that is very important to her. Mm hmm. So when her 15 year old daughter gets and that’s some of the most beautiful writing on her sit 15 year old daughter gets pregnant unmarried she is not happy. It was not the plan.

S14: No she is not happy at all. And as she’s done because she had a narrative right she had she had a plan for who her daughter was going to become and what was going to happen and here is her daughter saying I’m going to keep this baby. And also they were Catholic you know so they were like so many layers to it. And and I think there is where I’m talking about motherhood.

S7: I mean I think we have these plans for our children and I always think of the Sweet Honey in the rock song. They come. Your children are not your children. They come through you but they’re not of you. And though they are with you they belong to you.

S16: And I think that’s so it’s so true especially in that scene where Iris is like this is me and this is my baby and you can’t take it away from me and say me is like what do we do with this.

S10: Yeah but then I guess as we’ve already said she goes off to college and leaves the baby behind and goes off to have a life she wants every like lot of people would say that’s a really selfish choice. What do you think. I went and listened to a lot of people like you.

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S9: She won at one point in the book she says I was only 15. I wasn’t even anybody yet. And I think that a 16 year old knows everything they want and very little about what they want and then they eventually discover it. So at 16 she’s still read at the bone she’s still discovering who she is and and her desires are changing. And I have a deep respect for that. I have a deep respect for young people and the way you know eventually their frontal lobes connect. But you know while that process is going on they’re changing. They’re becoming they’re they’re figuring out everything about who they are. And so that’s who Iris was at. And I think every teenager is selfish. We were all selfish just teenagers. So it made sense to me and I think the narrative about motherhood is that a mother has to be a certain way. And that’s not I don’t believe that. I think there are all kinds of ways to be a mother and I think in terms of melody in the end. She she had an amazing life. You know she had amazing caregivers and she had people who loved her. And that’s what matters.

S10: A dad or just adores her as a grandparent and her grandparent both. But I mean as you said he’s he’s willing to. He doesn’t care about success and and there’s a lot here also he’s. He doesn’t care about certainly.

S9: I mean he’s a successful dad didn’t know it’s so successful. You’re right. He worked. He’s a successful mailroom worker right. And he’s a successful family man. So he doesn’t he doesn’t care about the same things Iris cares about and that that’s the point that they grow apart which makes sense because they’re 50 when this starts and they are 16 when they become parents which is I mean it is kind of mindblowing to me but I guess not to mind blowing because I wrote the book.

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S10: So there’s a lot here about class 2 which is another thing that I think you know white America probably doesn’t know very much about either which is the differences in class within the black community. And that’s another thing that you really explore here that I think is interesting. Yeah yeah. Why do you think white America doesn’t know about. I don’t know because I don’t live with black people a lot of the time. We live when white people with I know white people you know.

S4: What is interesting it is so interesting because I wonder if if I don’t know how white folks see black folks but I wonder do they just see us all as one as black folks.

S10: It depends on where they live. Honestly I think it depends on where they live. Huh. Yeah. I don’t know. I think I’m going to say that because I I live in Washington and I you know I think that a lot of people in Washington are depending on where you even live in Washington may be more aware of of the differences the class differences. Yeah. But again I’m asking you Did you consciously write about that because of the fact that people don’t think about that about that white people don’t think about that.

S8: OK.

S9: That was I think about now I don’t think about white people when I’m writing like I really am writing for myself and I’m not thinking about the white gaze. I think that’s a really.

S14: Clear point of my writing is that I am writing because I love black people. I really really love my people. And and that’s not. You know I’m super super pro black which doesn’t mean I’m anti white. But I. And and I believe that our stories matter. And so and I and I grew up in a history and a world where my stories weren’t there and my my desire is to put those stories there so that story of the class divides within the black community is a story is a story that black folks know you know so.

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S9: So and is a conversation we’re having with each other about this that that white folks are invited to the party of and and and and it’s a conversation that is that the black community is familiar with everything from I mean even CB It was so funny because I was talking to a reporter today from Austin and she was asking me about maybe always talking about the gold that hidden away. She’s like Is that a thing like you know it’s fiction here.

S18: And I don’t I can’t speak for the whole black community. I don’t know a thing. It’s not a thing in my house like but you know if my character CBS is a thing but it was it was so interesting.

S8: And I think that when I when I was writing it and when I was creating it create a conflict you know the economic class thing create a conflict and I’m also trying to talk about generational wealth and why black folks so often don’t have it and it’s not because we haven’t tried to pull ourself up by the bootstraps but when someone comes along and drops a bomb on your boots you have no bootstraps anymore to pull yourself up by. And I think that’s that’s that’s.

S9: And so I’m having this conversation and and validating it for the people who are you know getting victimized and having and feeling lesser than I me and in the same way that Aubrey comes from this phenomenal working class poor family and and he’s brilliant. I think that’s another we see again and again and media myth about poor black people that they’re not bright.

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S7: And so to me yes I’m intentionally putting on the page because I’ve seen this again and again I grew up in Bushwick the old Bushwick and you throw a stone you hit 10 Jacqueline Watson’s right. And I’m the lucky one who was able to write the books and get published and get the award but I’m not exceptional you know. And I think the world will want to look at certain people and say well you’re exceptional as a means of saying they’re not and I don’t I don’t ascribe to that. And so so and creating red at the bone and in talking about that economic class I really wanted to be really clear about who these people were and why they mattered.

S10: You know I was reading this book around the time that Toni Morrison died. And.

S19: And I I was asked to speak about it you know for NPR a certain point and so I was reading about her and one of the things I came across was first of all that she said that she had to start writing because she didn’t see the books that she wanted to read out there so she had to write them herself. And then I also read that some critic at the time that when she was starting to write it said there is no white people in your books. And I was so struck by that because I see right now so many great black writers writing about black life. Colson Whitehead Jasmine wars to turn Ozzie. TERRY JONES I mean all these people and I thought is that her legacy is is that partially maybe not only not only Toni Morrison but James Baldwin.

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S7: Yeah yeah I definitely feel like I’m here because Toni Morrison was here because James Baldwin was here because your lord was here. There are so many black writers and writers of color in general so that came before me that kind of said oh you can this is OK.

S9: Go tell that story. You know whether I met them or not. Alice Walker and and so yeah I think that’s what legacy is right. Someone comes along and knocks down one bodega door and then you’re able to walk through that one and get to the next one.

S10: But she definitely began helped other writers inside the publishing worlds to tell their story. Yeah you said earlier I love Iris so much character writers what what what is it you love about Iris. I love that she she is not thinking about how the world sees her.

S9: You know she’s making her own choices and she’s kind of forging ahead no matter what. And I think that that what I would love some of that. Me in this way. So so you create the world on paper that you want to see out in the world. And I feel like in creating Iris I put every kind of thing that I would love. Jacqueline Woodson to be and except you know a 15 year old mom a 60 year old mom. But but I just loved her.

S10: Fire Yeah.

S19: Are you the kind of I mean I’ve talked to a lot of writers now in my career and everybody has a different approach to writing and seems to me but are you the kind of writer who you set out you know what each character’s going going to be did you have in mind what these characters were going to be or do characters reveal themselves to you.

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S10: I mean Ivy I hear both from writers and I was wondering did you did you have these family figures set out in stone to begin with. I know it’s a good question. I didn’t.

S9: I had I had an idea of what the story was trying to say. And I had an idea of who melody and Iris were. And then as I wrote and rewrote and rewrote like Aubrey was on the page I couldn’t figure out Kathy Marie for the longest time like what her role was in the story. I knew who po boy was kind of but I didn’t know what was going to happen. You know I probably rewrote this book about 30 times like it was a lot of rewriting and reading it out loud and trying to figure out the timing and the way the characters kind of moved around each other and when certain plot points happened. But then it it wasn’t until I went and wrote that last scene that I came back that I kind of realized what I was really trying where I was trying to go with this book and then a lot more rewriting to as you about that lesson.

S15: As I was coming to the end of the book I said they said it’s a small you know it’s a slender book and I was loving it. And then I was thinking oh I really kind of don’t want this to end and I don’t know how she’s going to be able to end this you know so I’m going to be satisfied because it was a few pages away. You know you get a few pages where you think this book is going to end. I’m not quite ready for that. You know and then I have to tell you guys nails the ending absolutely nail the ending I was like Oh my God I can’t believe she did that.

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S6: How did you do that.

S9: I knew if I wrote one other word after that last word it would be because I was being self-conscious about the writing. And so I I just knew I walked away.

S16: I was like There it is there it is. The ending has literally revealed itself to me. And I knew that I had to go back and figure out other stuff in other parts of the book but I knew that’s where it needed to end.

S14: And and when you’re writing you’re all. And I’m sure the writers in the audience can speak to this when you’re you’re all pensive you know pent up and frustrated and you’re not sure. What’s happening.

S9: And then when you get to that point where you exhale and you feel some kind of wake that book is it was an emotional journey for me I mean I would sit there crying as I’m writing parts of it are laughing because I thought parts of funny and then I read them to my kids and they be like That’s not funny. But but but it was definitely like this throughout.

S10: And when I got to that ending I was like like seriously EXHALING I am trying to imagine what that’s like for a writer to just suddenly to be writing and then I mean did you know you were going you did you know that’s where you were going. We were talking about lending none of you know.

S17: I’m just trying to say she got to a good place.

S9: I felt really good about it. And it was a very different feeling than when I and the Brown Girl Dreaming. Into this because that book I did I was a mess after that. I thought it was done but for the longest time I was like this book is a mess. No one’s ever gonna read it. Why am I even writing it and you know my partner Juliette was just like keep writing keep you’re gonna be fine. And I finished writing am I I’m not fine like is no one’s ever gonna read this. And and so when I got to the ending of read at the bone it was such a different feeling like I felt very sure of it.

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S10: Another thing I want to ask you about I’ve talked about this once before when I interviewed you. Music plays a big role in your writing and I think that’s part of your writing has a lot of musicality to it as well as being poetic. And yet you’re a prose writer. But it plays a pretty funny role in this book it opens up with this prince song at this kind of coming out sort of party and I had to look up the song I have to tell you about the lyrics which are not played.

S20: Mother won’t let them play. And can you explain it for so how about I just read it. OK OK. As the opening of the book I had six thousand dollars for these lyrics I’m still if it was. Going to Prince I’d be really happy. But in a year.

S11: But that afternoon there was an orchestra playing music filling the brownstone black fingers pulling violin bows and strumming cellos dark lips around horns a small black brown girl with pink hair little pale pink nails on flute. Malcolm’s younger brother his dark skin glistening blowing somberly into a harmonica a broad shouldered woman on harp from my place on the stairs I could see through the windows. Curious white people stopping in front of the building to listen. And as I descended the music grew softer the lyrics inside my head becoming a whisper. I knew a girl named Nikki I guess you could say she was a sex fame no vocalist. The little girl didn’t know the words the broad shouldered woman having once belted them out loud while showering was now saved and refuse to remember them. Iris wouldn’t allow them to be sung and Malcolm’s brother’s sweet 7 year old mouth was full. Still they moved through my head as though Prince himself were beside me.

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S21: I met her in a hotel lobby masturbating with a magazine.

S9: I just love the juxtaposition of this orchestra playing and that’s the song they’re playing and I just did last the night before last. An event with Toshi Reagon at Joe’s Pub and we had an. We had a three piece ensemble two violins and a cello and her own guitar and we played that’s all it was.

S7: But I mean there’s music in your head is your all the time.

S9: I the minute I start writing I put my earphones on and I keep up the same playlist for years sometimes adding songs in but that that’s the way I race the world.

S12: I put my music on the world is gone I’m in the world of my career then it has to have some influence on the way you write it does.

S9: It does so everything from you know Eric Garner for from Mom. Yeah. Garner. Billie Holiday Wu Tang Prince all the music in that book is music I added to my playlist to kind of not only hear the music but to get the rhythm for the book. When you look at another Brooklyn that I was listening to a lot of jazz because I was trying to get to this jazzy rhythm for the telling of the story.

S12: And this was because it spans 1920s to 2000s. I had a whole long playlist. Janine I dream of lilac time like most of the songs in that book I list.

S10: I listen to it to get to that place where I want to leave some time for people to ask questions but I have one other question for you about being the ambassador for children’s literature which as I said I gather you’re not sorry do that to you I wonder what you weigh. I know you’ve probably done a lot of traveling with that man. A lot of young people. What is your take rousers desire.

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S7: So my platform you know my motto is reading Eagles hope times change and I was going around the country the groups I chose to talk to a Title 1 schools people in Title 1 schools and juvenile detention centers and I had hope to visit them in all 50 states. And I what I learned was how many juvenile detention centers exist in each state you know. So it’s impossible. I mean it was impossible for one person. And there’s a lot of need and there are a lot of young people who are so deeply hungry for literature and there are a lot of book deserts across this country and I wonder if that’s by accident or design and and that the next ambassador the next person who comes along or people have their work cut out for them.

S9: But I think it’s gonna be an easier journey because we’re gonna make some changes but it but it’s amazing work and there are a lot of readers and there are a lot of kids with a lot of stories.

S10: Great thank you. Thank you Lynn. So I want to open the Florida questions. We have microphones at the end of each aisle and there’s a microphone right here and there’s one over here.

S22: OK. Shy people so if you don’t ask me the question here you cannot ask me while I’m signing but I know how to go.

S23: Yeah I got the book out of the library. Thank you.

S24: I got a couple of days ago I started reading it yesterday evening and I finished when I was sitting here. It had me in tears at the end but I also have to say I also read the acknowledgements which were also ended beautifully. And it was like another I had my heart. And really if I hadn’t been sitting here I would have burst into tears. It was beautiful.

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S25: Thank you. Thanks for reading it. Thanks for getting it out of your library too. I mean I love independent bookstores and I love libraries. I was shocked I got it so quickly. Thank you.

S26: Go ahead sir. My question is one that you hear a lot here Your book talks and partly because I I tend to ask the question read it the bone and movies do you expect. What are you already committed to. I ask this anytime I hear a good saga that’s immediately and especially if it’s read and the language makes me see images then sort of an obvious question or am I gonna see these images on the big images right.

S4: Yeah yeah. I don’t know it’s it’s funny because movies and books are so different. Like the writing and the creating is a very visual experience for me.

S27: I can definitely see the characters moving along throughout this story but I don’t think about film I mean my my film agent thinks about film and I let her do that but I don’t actively try to get something on the screen because for me is so deeply satisfying to do the book.

S5: Have you had anything made into a film miracles.

S11: Boys was made into a mini series and I am actually writing behind you into series which I never expected. All the books I never thought that was the book that would become a series. But but I think and I think that’s it.

S10: I might be missing something. A lot of writers are disappointed of course when their books are turned on things. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah I would join that but we’ve got another question here. Tie away.

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S24: I think we got somebody. Thank you. I am always curious to know whenever there is an author I love what they are reading and so what are you excited about reading in terms of whether writers of color or.

S11: What’s what’s what’s new on Earth where brief on Earth where briefly Gore just blew me away. Tanenhaus his new book The Water dancer I’ve talked about exhale and because you know he wrote he’s he writes nonfiction and he’s a friend. So it’s like oh please let this book be good please be good. And it is phenomenal. I just started Ann Patchett the Dutch house which is really great. I’m usually reading more than one book at a time and I can’t remember what else I’m reading.

S28: I think I’m rereading the Black Panther comics because I just like them so thank you.

S29: Thank you. Great. Go ahead. Hi.

S30: External from your work in Title 1 schools. I’m interested to know how many people of color actually interview you and what your experiences also with interacting with queer people in the literary community and what their reactions have been to the spaces that you’re in how much you like or dislike the people who you interact with.

S24: You know like just kind of how many queer people of color do you actually interact with in the literary scene and how has that impacted would you write and how you feel and your career steps. That’s a great question.

S27: You know it’s so funny. You know I think about all the fluid people I know without going like this I. I think that our world my world you know my world is mostly queer because I’m queer so but in terms of like who interviews me I I get a lot of interviews by black women not always queer women. And some women I’m trying to think I just I don’t know it’s so funny because it’s just for me it just kind of ebbs and flows I’m sure in terms of who’s asking me what but I don’t know. It’s such a good question in terms of interacting with queer writers. There are lots of us and we’re a small group. You know we we tend to gravitate toward each other. I feel like back in the 90s it would be when there was conferences like outright and places where queer writers could gather and talk about stuff. Was a lot more of that. But as as the world changed we kind of got separated from each other and so so it’s kind of like you know when I’m sitting talking to ocean or something it feels like home and a very different way. But I keep my circle I keep my people close and that’s. And some of them are writers a lot of them are artists.

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S28: Many of them are queer and that’s because when I go out into the world so often that’s not the world I go out to and it’s important for me to hold home close. Thank you. Thank you.

S31: So I mean I’m almost done with last summer with measles. And the two best friends. I’ve read. Brown Girl Dreaming sometime before that. And somewhere in between. You talked about your friend two doors down from you. Maria Yeah. Maria. And how you guys were best friends. How is that learned by you to make a move.

S27: Masel definitely that’s a great question. Yeah. Laughs I’m all with Mason actually took place on the block. I grew up on Madison Street and and Mason is it. I feel like I’m both Mays and Margaret. In this way but my friendship with Maria who I’m still very good friends with was definitely inspired inspire that friendship. The people in the neighborhood that I knew as a kid definitely inspired people like Miss Del and Margaret’s mother. So yeah there’s a lot of me in that book and I think that’s because it was my first novel so it was stuff I was writing what I knew. And of course Brown Girl Dreaming is a memoir so that’s a lot of me.

S29: Thank you. Thanks.

S32: Thanks so much. You haven’t read the book. I grew up in Harlem on Sugarhill had a lot of friends in Brooklyn. I want to ask you something about the nature of black people who see colorism. Mm hmm. Black light and light as Langston Hughes said there’s a kind of category for all of us that we have in ourselves. Have you written about that or talked about it or been asked about it.

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S14: No because I don’t care. You know I think this is a commentary. Oh no. Yeah. No I it’s not.

S27: It’s not so I feel like when I’m sitting down to write I’m writing about I’m writing from this place of love for my people and not of a place of you know I feel like of all the things I can critique in the community that’s not one I care enough about to go deep into and you know I live in a fight I have my family if you saw my family you’d be like what it feels like it’s such a it’s such a family that spans so many shades and so many ethnicities and so many languages that I never want anyone in the family to feel lesser than.

S4: And so to even begin to write and have people call each other out around us I just feel so remedial to me in this way that I am not interested.

S28: So I’ve never written about it. Thank you.

S33: So you mentioned that you rewrote this particular book like 30 times so that’s kind of a process question about well but how long did it actually take you to write the book is one question. And also you also said you read a lot of different books at one time but are you ever writing more than one piece at the same time.

S11: I’m usually working on two or three books at the same time and not necessarily in the same genre.

S22: So if I’m writing middle grade I’m also working on a picture book and maybe an adult book. Right now I’m working on an article for The New York Times and I’m working on the screenplay and I’m working on a middle grade book.

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S27: So and I I. And that’s what slows me down. But then when I’m really really into a book that’s the only thing I can work on. So it gets to the point where I have to just focus on that one book. And in terms of read at the bone I feel like it started in 2015 and I’ve always been interested in the Tulsa race massacre and and the absence of it in a narrative and especially in our daily narratives and in our historical narratives. So I knew I was going to write about that some way somehow. And also the stereotypes around teenage pregnancy I hope that was on my brain and when I always say I write because I have questions not because I’ve answers. And I kept saying what if what if what if and what does this mean.

S22: And also in terms going back to thinking about generational wealth and often the lack thereof in black communities I really wanted to speak to that and understand that on a deeper level and that’s when I started where I read at the bone but it started in different stages and and I would I always take notes and I’m writing down character sketches and you know it was gonna be the same book like as you like you’re just.

S28: Yes yeah I do know that those notes are going toward that book. Okay okay. Thank you Hi.

S34: I’m a middle school teacher. And you. We are. We are planning to use after Tupac Andy Foster as well as Brown or dreaming this year. And I just had a parent reach out to me last week that she would rather her son not read after Tupac and d Foster because she was so fixated on the subplot with one of the girls his brother being wrongfully imprisoned that her son could not relate to that and she didn’t want him to read that book. So I have drafted and redrafted my response and now I want to do it Jacqueline Woodson unit.

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S27: So she was upset about the brother being in prison.

S35: Not that the brother was queer and in prison she didn’t mention that issue any concern about the brother being queer just that she didn’t want her son ring reading about gangs and imprisonment and you know gangs and that I know.

S34: So I was wondering like do we even read the same book or even read the book. So you have to have parents read the books that we plan to use in our classroom.

S35: So I still haven’t replied to that email. And I guess but really my question is you know I think it’s so important for us to bring lots of different books into the classroom for the kids especially for the kids who have are used to reading books about themselves right are used to seeing themselves and don’t even realize that. And I guess I should expect that there’s going to be this pushback. And so I was just wondering if you had any advice or words of encouragement or will you just come to our school know.

S20: If you’ve noticed but she does speak her mind.

S27: I do. They talk about stuff from the letter A. So I I I’m I’m stumbling but I think you know of course if a mom’s if the kid knows his mom is saying don’t read that book he’s already finished it right. Right.

S35: But so you’re reading it as a class read so we’re going to offer that as an option along with ghost as well as its establishment ghost is fabulous and as well as Mockingbird. So they’ll have for choice Mockingbird Kathryn Erskine. Oh and then ghost and then the skin I’m in. And then after Tupac and Dean Foster and so the idea that the focus of the unit is on identity. And also we want the students writing a narrative and using the book that they’re reading for inspiration and looking at the author’s writing style.

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S27: And so that’s you know that I love that you’re giving them so many options and I think that’s really important.

S4: I don’t they don’t even respond. He doesn’t have to read it.

S27: You know what’s going to happen is hopefully he’ll read goes which is phenomenal. Right. And and then they’ll the kids will be talking about it and loving it and he’ll want to read it. So you know and that’s not you putting it into his hands that’s so much of that happens by word of mouth from people their own age. So I wouldn’t even respond to her I just you know keep on moving like there’s so many times in this world where you just have to push past and keep on moving. Thank you. Thank you.

S10: That made me think of something though because we’re heading into banned book week which year.

S36: And have you had any any impact.

S25: Oh my goodness. Have I not.

S7: I I was talking about this in that New York Times piece when I remember Judy Blume calling me up and saying she’s doing this anthology called the places that I’ve never meant to be about people whose work has been challenged and I’m like Well my work hasn’t been challenge she’s like oh yes it has.

S18: And a lot of times when you know where it gets challenged you don’t even know right because it’s not like they’re calling you up saying you know I’m taking your book out of my classroom I don’t want my my my son or daughter reading your book.

S20: So she of course other people know more than you do about it. And so yeah my work has been challenged. But you don’t. I mean we don’t know about it either. But have you ever had some people know about it.

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S7: I remember when Scholastic was first publishing from the notebooks of melanin Sun which was their first queer book ever.

S37: And excuse me I did an interview in out magazine and they talked about that book that book wasn’t even published yet that this was a book Scholastic was publishing.

S9: And I got all these letters from sixth graders somewhere in Washington state like handwritten letters where the teacher had had an assignment to write to say why this book shouldn’t be published and it was like we don’t want Jacqueline Woodson an African-American woman to publish to write a book about a lesbian mother and her like.

S8: And there were so many misspell words and I mean African-American was Miss.

S36: And I literally it was about 30 letters I went through each one and corrected all that and sent them right back so bad I went through it with a purple pen.

S20: I don’t like red pens and I just returned them to them. But you know that was when I was in my 20s. Now I just ignore it. But back then.

S38: Any other questions. We have time for one more question or if if everybody is ready we can move to the site. Yeah.

S27: I really I’m not answering them while I’m signing.

S9: I’m so serious. OK. Okay. I couldn’t resist.

S38: I was struck by you saying that you wanted to write about the Tulsa massacre because it was something that we didn’t know. I really been struck by so many African-American writers of fiction. I think fiction tells a truth that nonfiction can’t. And journalism doesn’t want to address. And I’m wondering what you think about the kind of fiction that’s being written particularly by writers of color. I mean I’m stark. I just was sitting there thinking about Walter Jones in America. How about you know the wrongful incarceration film incarceration Attica Locke writes about white supremacy. Even the hate you give you know they’re all books that like I thrust upon people because I want to say no you have to read this because maybe then this will be your entry way into trying to find out about these other things. I’m wondering what sort of books you’ve been struck by. Clearly your book you want to. You want people to know about real things. You write fiction. I’m wondering are the books.

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S7: Yeah. When I think of something like Justin Ward’s saying unburied sing and of course T.R. his book and Tiana townhouses and Colson and I think what strikes me about them is they’re speaking truth and they’re also telling amazing stories.

S14: So they’re really beautifully written there.

S37: There’s there’s there is that entry way that makes it easier on the heart right.

S14: To be able to fall in love with these characters and care deeply for them and want to see the world changed because of that. And so I think that reading builds empathy it builds understanding as Doctor routine Sims Bishop talks about in keeping with the need to cite black women because we often don’t get cited. We just have our quotes thrown around the world and not get credit for them.

S9: But in keeping with that she talked about the importance of young people having mirrors and windows so mirror so that they see reflections of themselves and windows so that they see into other possibilities in other worlds and other narratives and I think that what good fiction does is it really does give us a window into those worlds and makes the lives of those people and makes us understand them on a deeper level. And so it builds empathy.

S14: So I think the lesson I learned from writing for kids is that you can’t be didactic that the minute you’re didactic someone’s going to stop reading your book especially young people they write because they want to hear a good story. They don’t write because they want to learn. They read textbooks to learn. And so and I bring that to the adult writing like there are things I want to say there are questions I want to ask their conversations I want to have on the page and I don’t want it to feel like I’m trying to teach somebody something because I am not.

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S7: I’m writing to learn myself so and I feel like like for him saying unburied seeing even from the water dancer I just felt like I learned so much about the Underground Railroad about about the lives of people who came before me thank you.

S39: Thank you. Thank you.

S1: I feel great talking to you on live at Politics and Prose is a co-production of the bookstore and Slate dot com. For information about upcoming Politics and Prose events visit politics dash prose dot com and please let us know what you think of this program. Our email is podcasts at Slate dot com.