Author Jacqueline Woodson Captivates Readers at Jefferson County Library Event


Eight-year-old Karalynn Johnson clutched her copy of Jacqueline Woodson’s book “The Year We Learned To Fly” as she and her family found their seats stage right in the auditorium of Jefferson High School in Edgewater on April 5. 

The Lumberg Elementary School student was eager to see the author of her newest favorite book in person.

Woodson, the award-winning and bestselling author of more than 40 books, including “The Day You Begin,” “Red at the Bone,” and the critically acclaimed “Brown Girl Dreaming,” drew a sizable crowd for the Jefferson County Public Library evening event — a testament to the reason the library reached out to the prolific author. From picture books to novels, Woodson’s fans range from the youngest readers to adults, and the audience represented just that. 

The effort to bring Woodson and her work in front of Jefferson County readers was the first major collaboration between the Jefferson County Public School District and the public library, according to Terri Faulkner, the school age coordinator for kids and families. 

“Woodson was the exact right one for this,” said Faulker, explaining that the initiative was spurred by the idea of a former librarian to bring in the author of one book that would resonate to all readers.  “We wanted someone to represent the diversity that the kids and families in JeffCo could identify with. Woodson’s books are amazing.  We made the call, and Woodson said ‘yes.’”

In coordination with bringing the Brooklyn-based author to speak, the library went one step further, and with funding made possible by the Jefferson County Commissioners Office, distributed copies of her picture books to Title 1 third graders, like “The Year We Learned To Fly.”

Across the aisle from the Johnson family was Jefferson County Commissioner Lesley Dahlkemper. Following the event, Dahlkemper said she’s been a Woodson fan for years. 

“Her writing is raw and poignant,” said Dahlkemper, who brought several of Woodson’s books for the signing event following the reading. “Literary events like this are so important to our community. There’s something in her writing for all of us, and I was so excited when the Jefferson County Commissioners office could support her coming to Colorado.”

With a blend of improv and poignant anecdotes, Woodson shared insight into her writing life, growing up in South Carolina, and read excerpts from several of her books.

When writing her illustrated children’s stories, for example, she asks herself if the story can stand on its own, without pictures. Named the Young People’s Poet Laureate by the Poetry Foundation in 2015, Woodson’s 2014 National Book Award and Newbery Honor winning memoir “Brown Girl Dreaming” captures Woodson’s upbringing in the racially-charged era of 1960s and 70s, and charts her path to becoming the author she is today.

“I didn’t know what I was doing, but I knew I wanted to understand how I became Jacqueline Woodson,” she said of her process of writing the memoir. 

“Brown Girl Dreaming” is written in verse because it’s from memory, and memory is like white space,” she explained to the audience. “Who remembers their life as chapters?  I remember my life in small moments.”

“When I got to holes in the narrative, I interviewed my mother,” Woodson said. But when her mother died suddenly, there were more holes, and what other family members started filling in, she initially thought “mattered to no one.”

But whether it’s the way her family’s stories and seemingly inconsequential memories resurrect connections and memories far beyond the town she grew up in, or how a young writer is inspired to tell their own story, she understands that “once you write a book it goes out in to the world and it’s no longer yours.” 

Earlier in the day, Woodson shared her process in-person with Jefferson High School students while the event was live-streamed to other Jefferson County schools. Friday evening some of the Jefferson High students had the opportunity to ask questions of the author. One student asked about the fan mail she receives. 

Aside from the oddball submissions, said Woodson, her readers usually reach out to convey how her books impacted them. 

“I write because I have questions, and my hope for the reader is that the lens has shifted,” Woodson concluded. “I think when you read a book you love it changes you.” 

Her fans agreed. “I’m trying to read a new book every day, but I feel like she makes me believe I can be a writer, too,” said Johnson. “I got her book yesterday and I’ve already read it more than once.”

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