Last Friday, I posted that award-winning author Jacqueline Woodson, who also happens to be a queer mom of color, had been named National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature. She was inaugurated yesterday by the Librarian of Congress, Dr. Carla Hayden. Watch the video, which includes a speech by Woodson in which she thanks her partner and their children, and a conversation between Woodson and Hayden.
Woodson talks with Hayden about the importance of seeing oneself reflected in what one reads, her origins as a writer, reading in the age of technology, and more.
In her solo speech, Woodson said, “I am thankful to to my amazing family: my partner Juliette, our children Toshi and Jackson Leroy.” She also delves more deeply into her motivations as a writer:
The idea of waking up every day and being unhappy with the work you’re doing was heartbreaking to me and so I honed the thing that I felt was my brilliance and worked at it until it became the thing I wanted it to be in the world, the stories I wanted to tell, and I think everyone has that; everyone has that thing that they’re really good at, that they really love doing, and our work as adults is to not kill that fire. Your work as young people is to not let that fire get murdered, and then we get to see all of that brilliance in the world in a way that transforms it and transforms us.
She gives us, too, an image of hope, saying, “There is magic in this moment we’re living in now—there is so much possibility.” She tells the young people in the audience, “that power to create change is in your hearts, in your heads, in your hands.”
As national ambassador, she said:
My hope is to begin conversations our country is hungry, but ofttimes afraid to have…. My hope for the next two years is that we come together in many rooms to talk, that we meet the authors halfway and talk about what our hopes are for the future…. that we find the books that tell the stories we need to hear and use those stories to write the next chapter in this country’s history that we remember there was a time when people were not allowed to learn to read because reading led to freedom.
I can’t do justice to the entire speech since Woodson’s way with words is (as always) extraordinary, so please go watch it yourself. The full video is rather long; here’s a quick guide:
- 0:00 Introductory remarks from Lee Ann Potter, Director of Educational Outreach at the Library of Congress; Dr. Hayden; and Carl Lennertz, Executive Director of the Children’s Book Council.
- 23:00 Remarks by author Gene Luen Yang, the outgoing National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, including an overview of Woodson’s accomplishments.
- 30:00 Conversation between Woodson and Hayden.
- 44:50 Woodson’s speech.
- 59:00 Questions.
Let’s also take a moment to reflect on the how great it is that even under the current federal administration, a queer mom of color was named to a position of national visibility and responsibility by a federal official and thanked her same-sex partner publicly during her inauguration.
Not that the current administration had much to do with this. Hayden was nominated by President Obama and approved by the Senate in 2016; her term of office is 10 years. And the appointment was made by the Librarian of Congress in partnership with the Children’s Book Council, the nonprofit trade association of children’s book publishers in North America, and Every Child a Reader, a literacy charity. Still, Hayden’s appointment of Woodson lends credence to my longstanding suspicion that librarians are magical creatures with a secret mission to improve the world.
She and Hayden also seem to have a bond. “I’ve been a fan of Miss Woodson’s for a long time,” said Hayden.
Woodson in return called Hayden, “My sister from another mother and history maker.” (Hayden is the first woman and first Black American to hold the post, and the first professional librarian appointed to it in over 60 years.)
Woodson is a spectacular author who creates believable, complex characters and has a keen eye for how social systems impact individual lives. If you have not yet read any of her works, I encourage you to do so now.
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