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Wisdom From YA Authors On Leaving Home: Jacqueline Woodson


Do you remember the moment you left home for good? This month, many young people will do that - shouldering their bags, heading out the door for college, a job or travels of their own devising. Throughout August, we've brought you stories and advice about this poignant moment from authors who write for young adults. It's a series we call Next Chapter. Today we hear from Jacqueline Woodson. She is the Newbery Honor-winning author of "Brown Girl Dreaming" and "Another Brooklyn." And she says she tries to write about...

JACQUELINE WOODSON: ...People and places and things that I would've been interested in reading about when I was young.

WERTHEIMER: Jacqueline Woodson came of age in Brooklyn just as the 1970s turned into the '80s. She says that if you were to look for her in the days before she left home, you probably would have found her on the dance floor at Studio 54.



CHIC: (Singing) Ah (ph), freak out.

WOODSON: In the daytime, I was expected to be the straight-A student. I was expected to be college bound. I was expected to be a great big sister. And then at night, I was just a club kid. And it was amazing to be able to let go like that and be that free.


CHIC: (Singing) Allow us, we'll show you the way. Ah, freak out. Le freak, c'est chic. Freak out.

WOODSON: I didn't have any idea of what I was getting into by going away to college. And I was scared. I was scared of failing. I was scared of it not being for me because I was going to be one of the first people in my family to go off to college.


WOODSON: I had this dream of going right into a dorm, and I ended up having to live in these apartments off campus. And I realized that the way the school worked, a lot of the people living in these apartments off campus were people of color. And there was this kind of race thing going on that was really not OK.

I remember when I was in a creative writing class and the professor had asked us to pull a song that was meaningful to us and to write about it. And I chose "Lift Every Voice And Sing," which is the black national anthem. And I remember the professor saying, well, this song could be any song. This song could be a song for a fraternity. This song could be the song of just anybody. And I was like, but it's not. (Laughter) Like, this is the black national anthem.

And I didn't even know how to begin to explain to him the blasphemy of that. And it was this kind of turning moment where I realized that I was suddenly in a place where I would have to learn how to explain stuff in this really remedial way so that people who had no sense of who I was or where I was coming from could understand.


MELINDA DOOLITTLE: (Singing) Lift every voice and sing till earth and heaven ring.

WOODSON: As people of color, you know, we have this double consciousness and we have this way in which we speak one way in one group and speak another way in another group and see the world from different perspectives. And I think that coming out of college, I knew that there were even more ways in which I was able and would have to walk through the world. And I really feel like I came out of that experience so much stronger.

I would say look up. Get out there and let yourself be afraid. Let yourself have the hard conversations. Walk through the world as though you're walking through it with your skin peeled back, and grow stronger from it.


BOB MARLEY: (Singing) Wake up and live, y'all. Wake up and live.

WERTHEIMER: That's Jacqueline Woodson. She's part of our series Next Chapter. We're hearing "Wake Up And Live" by Bob Marley, one of the artists Ms. Woodson was listening to when she left town. We also heard the Eurythmics, Chic's song "Le Freak" about Studio 54 and "Lift Every Voice And Sing" performed by Melinda Doolittle.


MARLEY: (Singing) Flee from hate, mischief and jealousy. Don't bury your thoughts. Put your vision to reality, yeah. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.