Brown Girl Dreaming/Jacqueline Woodson: a whole story, a lesson on writing

Monday, December 29, 2014

This morning I have been raised up by Brown Girl Dreaming, Jacqueline Woodson's masterpiece. I have sat with her poems and her life on my lap, seeing with greatest clarity. A story of growing up in the south and in the north, of reading slow and remembering deep, of telling stories that might have been as if they happened yesterday. Life is apportioned but it must be lived whole. In fractions we find our trembling unities. In love, our idea of home.

This is Woodson's story. But it's also the way she tells the story, the deep, clean beauty in the lines, the wisdom in the narrative idea, the authenticity of the recurring themes, not a single (bless her) gimmick. It's how she speaks for all of us, how she makes us want (at once) to pass her story on. It's how she  makes me remember, when I read her book, sitting in the back of a teacher's conference in Boston, only last year, with Nancy Paulsen, Woodson's editor, beside me (Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin). Woodson was on the stage. Paulsen was smiling.

"She's written such a beautiful book," Paulsen leaned over and whispered, and I said (all honestly), "I have no doubt."

Not one.

Have no doubt about this book. Read (if you haven't already) the whole, but start with this single page called "writing # 1." It, like the entirety of Brown Girl Dreaming, calls to all of us:

writing #1

It's easier to make up stories
than it is to write them down. When I speak,
the words come pouring out of me. The story
wakes up and walks all over the room. Sits in a chair,
crosses one leg over the other, says,
Let me introduce myself. Then just starts going on and on.
But as I bend over my composition notebook,
only my name
comes quickly. Each letter, neatly printed
between the pale blue lines. Then white
space and air and me wondering, How do I
spell introduce? Trying again and again
until there is nothing but pink
bits of eraser and a hole now
where a story should be.

Perfection? I think so.


Sarah Laurence said...

I'm glad to see that you loved this book as much as I did.

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