Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Jacqueline Woodson on Writing and Home

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Jacqueline Woodson has an article in the Horn Book for March/April 2007. It's an adaptation of her Zena Sutherland Lecture "How Do I Come Home Again?" from May 5, 2006 in Chicago. In it she discusses her writing process as related to finding the home within herself. About home she says, "This was always home to me - that place I could get to inside myself that didn't know my name, that had never read a book of mine, that loved me unconditionally." How wonderful to have such a strong sense of self and such a deep grounding in home.

She describes a school visit where she eats lunch with the teachers before meeting the students. She recognizes that these author-visiting-a-school lunches are really interviews with the "gatekeepers", where the teachers are testing out the author to see how she/he is going to perform for their students. Naturally the teachers want to know about her writing process (don't we all). She says,

"My writing process is about finding time to write while dealing with the emotional struggles of trying to raise a three-year-old of color in a world where little colored girls still struggle over their self-image." Some of the teachers nod - how does one do this? Because it's not a question about Motherhood - it's a question about teaching and learning. It's a question about changing the world. How do we walk into the world and help children understand their importance here? How do we walk and work and write against hatred and intolerance and internalized racism and classism? How do we get young people to exist on this earth, in this country, in this city, in our homes and classrooms - unafraid? This is my writing process - to walk through the world with my eyes wide open with the hopes of making it safer for my child and all children. But how, the teachers want to know. "I don't know", I say, the tuna fish going chalky in my mouth. I really don't."

She goes on to describe how her stories come to her and how the characters tell her things and she writes them down. She listens and she closes her eyes and types. She says she trusts the stories. She says she refuses to listen to doubt because "doubt stops the pen cold." I need to learn that trick - refusing to listen to doubt. These days doubt dogs me day and night.

At the end of her article she says "Home is here - this place inside of me, inside of each of us, that we curl into. The place that keeps us whole. That keeps us happy. That keeps us... on our way."

I can think of a long list of things I haven't done or haven't finished or meant to do better in the past few months. Some times I get really stressed about all the balls I am dropping. One thing I have found great pleasure in lately is writing haiku and taking pictures. They aren't the best haiku and photographs I have ever seen. There isn't much concrete reward for flower pictures or haiku. Doing this is not as important as my teaching work or my parenting. But sharing my haiku and my pictures is helping me to find the home within and that is giving me joy.

Woodson says she wants to use writing to make the world safer. She wants to use writing to show people their own power, the power inside their dreams. I think blogging and writing haiku and taking photographs of my garden is doing that for me. Thank you Ms. Woodson for affirming that for me today.


Charlotte said...

I have actually been meaning to write and tell you that I have been enjoying your pictures and haiku, even though some of them make me a bit envious because we are still at the early daffodil stage and have run out of firewood. I ended up getting my boys digital cameras for Easter, envisioning similar nature picture taking, but they don't work with our old computer--argh.

Anonymous said...

"But sharing my haiku and my pictures is helping me to find the home within and that is giving me joy." Amen. I couldn't agree more. Your post was lovely to read.