Jacqueline Woodson's New Novel For Adults Has Its Roots In Adolescence
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Jacqueline Woodson has been writing books for children and young adults for most of her career. She won the National Book Award in 2014 for her memoir "Brown Girl Dreaming" and, after that, wanted to do something she hadn't done in 20 years - write a book for adults. It's called "Another Brooklyn," and as NPR's Lynn Neary reports, it's about friendship and memory and coming to terms with death.
LYNN NEARY, BYLINE: Jacqueline Woodson says writing for adults allowed her to experiment a little more than usual. That's not to say she doesn't take chances with her young adult books. After all, "Brown Girl Dreaming" is a memoir in verse. Her new novel has both a poetic and a musical feel.
JACQUELINE WOODSON: I love playing with form. I love playing with sound. Stuff has to sound a certain way as well as look a certain way on the page for me. I love music, and I love writing that has a musicality to it. So, yeah, music is important, and it does - the book does have this kind of jazzy feel to me when I'm reading it.
NEARY: Woodson says books for children and young adults usually take place within a short period of time. She wanted this story to roam more freely through time because so much of it is about memory.
WOODSON: I feel like "Another Brooklyn" came to me in this kind of dream-like series of vignettes. So it feels like kind of a dream narrative, but also a story that is looking back on a time that no longer exists and a place that no longer exists. So when you think of that fuzzy haze of memory, it is trying to represent that.
NEARY: The memories belong to August, who was born in Tennessee, but moved to Brooklyn after her mother died - a fact she refuses to accept.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
WOODSON: (Reading) Sweet Grove becoming memory, my mother becoming dust - what's in the urn? You know what's in the urn. Is Mama home yet - memory like a bruise, fading. She's coming tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow. Don't wade in the water, children. Your mama's done troubled the water. Our land moved in grassy waves toward the water. The land ended at the water. Maybe my mother had forgotten this.
NEARY: We first meet August as an adult who has returned to Brooklyn to bury her father. A chance encounter with an old friend triggers a flood of feelings about her childhood and the friends she grew up with. As she looks back on that time, she keeps reminding the reader this is memory, which makes one wonder if her version of the story is true.
WOODSON: It can't be questioned because this is her memory. It belongs to her, and so in that memory lives August's story. It's not something that you're going to change a person's mind about by saying it happened like this and not like that because it is that individual's experience of that moment. And for August in "Another Brooklyn," what she's saying is this is mine. This is what I own.
NEARY: The young August first sees the three girls who will become her best friends from the window of her apartment. She watches them for a long time before finally meeting them. They become her anchor, seeing her through the thrill and confusion of adolescence and the excitement and dangers of the streets where they live.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
WOODSON: Somehow my brother and I grew up motherless, yet halfway whole. My brother had the faith my father brought him to. And for a long time, I had Sylvia, Angela and Gigi, the four of us sharing the weight of growing up girl in Brooklyn as though it was a bag of stones we passed among ourselves, saying, here, help me carry this.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
WOODSON: That bag of stones they had to carry was the weight of that world they were living in. So even as they loved it, there was all of this stuff going on that they couldn't control. There were the people coming back from Vietnam. They were their parents. There were all of these things that were a part of Brooklyn that was awake to them, even as they were being nurtured by this place.
NEARY: From the very beginning, we know that the friends betrayed each other. How, why and to what effect we learn as August's memories unfold. Woodson says writing about lost friendship was hard for her.
WOODSON: Friendship is such an important thing to me. And I feel like the people who I love and who help keep me whole - I can't imagine a life without them. And writing "Another Brooklyn," I had to imagine what happens when friendships dissolve.
NEARY: Though her novel is written for adults, it's a story drawn from childhood and adolescence because, says Woodson, those years have such a profound effect on the rest of our lives. Lynn Neary, NPR News, Washington.
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