Young People’s Poet Laureate

On June 1, 2015 I began a two-year term as Young People’s Poet Laureate.

Wondering what that is? The Poetry Foundation’s website describes it this way:

“Awarded by the Poetry Foundation for a two-year tenure, the young people’s poet laureate aims to raise awareness that young people have a natural receptivity to poetry and are its most appreciative audience, especially when poems are written specifically for them.”

From Brown Girl Dreaming — Poetry As Memoir

reading

I am not my sister.
Words from the books curl around each other
make little sense
until
I read them again
and again, the story
settling into memory.  Too slow
the teacher says.
Read faster.
Too babyish, the teacher says.
Read older.
But I don’t want to read faster or older or
any way else that might
make the story disappear too quickly
from where it’s settling
inside my brain,
slowly becoming
a part of me.
A story I will remember
long after I’ve read it for the second,
third, tenth,
hundredth time.

how to listen #7

Even the silence
has a story to tell you.
Just listen. Listen.

a girl named jack

Good enough name for me, my father said
the day I was born.
Don’t see why
she can’t have it, too.

But the women said no.
My mother first.
Then each aunt, pulling my pink blanket back
patting the crop of thick curls
tugging at my new toes
touching my cheeks.

We won’t have a girl named Jack, my mother said.

And my father’s sitters whispered,
A boy named Jack was bad enough.
But only so my mother could hear.
Name a girl Jack, my father said,
and she can’t help but
grow up strong.
Raise her right, my father said,
and she’ll make that name her own.
Name a girl Jack
and people will look at her twice, my father said.
For no good reason but to ask 
if her parents were crazy, my mother said.

And back and forth it went until I was Jackie
and my father letter the hospital mad.

My mother said to my aunts,
Hand me that pen, wrote
Jacqueline where it asked for a name.
Jacqueline, just in case
someone thought to drop the ie.

Jacqueline, just in case
I grew up and wanted something a little bit longer
and further away from
Jack.

From Locomotion — Poetry As Fiction

Group Home Before Miss Edna’s House (from the book “Locomotion”)

The monsters that come at night don’t
breathe fire, have two heads or long claws.

The monsters that come at night don’t
come bloody and half-dead and calling your name.

They come looking like regular boys
going through your drawers and pockets saying

You better not tell Counselor else I’ll beat you down.
The monsters that come at night snatch

the covers off you bed, take your
pillow and in the morning

steal your bacon when the cook’s back is turned
call themselves The Throwaway Boys, say

You one of us now.
When the relatives stop coming

When you don’t know where your sister is anymore
When ever sign around you says

Group Home Rules: Don’t
do this and don’t do that

until it sinks in one rainy Saturday afternoon
while you’re sitting at the Group Home window

reading a beat-up Group Home book,
wearing a Group Home hand-me-down shirt

hearing all the Group Home loudness, that
you are a Throwaway Boy.

And the new just sits in your stomach
hard and heavy as Group Home food.

From The Other Side — Poetry As Picture Book

That summer, the fence that stretched through our town seemed bigger.
We lived in a yellow house on one side of it.
White people lived on the other.
And Mama said “Don’t climb over that fence when you play.
She said it wasn’t safe.

That summer, there was a girl who wore a pink sweater.
Each morning she climbed up on that fence and stared over at our side.
She never sat on that fence with anyone, that girl didn’t….

From “Show Way” — Poetry as History

When Soonie’s great grandma was seven, she was sold
from the Virginia land to a plantation in South Carolina
without her ma
or pa
but with some muslin her ma had given her and two needles
she got from the Big House and thread
dyed bright red with berries from the chokecherry tree.

In South Carolina, Big Mama raised Soonie’s great grandma
Raised most the slave children on that large patch of land….

From Each Kindness —Poetry As Empathy

Every little thing we do, Ms. Albert said.
Goes out, like a ripple
into the world.

Brown Girl Dreaming

Brown Girl Dreaming tells the story of my childhood, in verse.book cover Raised in South Carolina and New York, I always felt halfway home in each place. In these poems, I share what it was like to grow up as an African American in the 1960s and 1970s, living with the remnants of Jim Crow and my growing awareness of the Civil Rights movement.
It also reflects the joy of finding my voice through writing stories, despite the fact that I struggled with reading as a child. My love of stories inspired and stayed with me, creating the first sparks of the writer I was to become.

Where it takes place:

Columbus, Ohio, Greenville, South Carolina and Brooklyn, New York

Where I wrote it:

In all of those places but mostly in Brooklyn.

Why I wrote it:

I wanted to understand who my mom was before she was my mother and I wanted to understand exactly how I became a writer. So I started researching my life, asking relatives and talking to friends – and mostly, just letting myself remember.

This Is the Rope

book coverThis is a fictive memoir. From the early 1900s until the mid 1970s, more than 6 million African Americans moved from the rural south to northern cities. This novel is inspired by those families and by my own Mom, who moved from Greenville, South Carolina to Brooklyn, New York in 1968.
The book begins:

This is the rope my grandmother found
beneath an old tree
a long time ago
back home in South Carolina.
This is the rope my grandmother skipped
under the shade of a sweet-smelling pine.

Where it takes place:

It starts out in South Carolina and ends in Brooklyn, NY

Where I wrote it:

In Brooklyn and in Virginia.

Why I wrote it:

I wanted to tell the story of how some Black people came to New York City. When I began writing it, my mom was still living. She didn’t live to see the final book but I think it would make her very proud. She came to Brooklyn a long time ago and if she hadn’t come to New York, I wouldn’t have grown up here! I couldn’t even imagine that!

Each Kindness

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Ilustrated by EB Lewis

A new girl comes to school and tries to make friends. When Chloe, the narrator, is unkind, the girl keeps trying. And then the girl is gone and Chloe is left only with the memory of her unkindness.

Where it takes place:

This story could take place anywhere.

Where I wrote it:

In Park Slope, Brooklyn.

Why I wrote it:

At some point in our lives, we are all unkind. At some point, we are all treated unkindly. I wanted to understand this more. I think too often we believe we’ll have a second chance at kindness – and sometimes we don’t. I do believe, as Chloe’s teacher, Ms. Albert, says, that everything we do goes out, like a ripple into the world. I wrote this because I believe in kindness.

Awards:
  • Coretta Scott King Honor Book
  • 2013 Jane Addams Peace Award
  • 2013 Charlotte Zolotow Award
  • Best Book of 2012 – School Library Journal

Beneath a Meth Moon

beneath-a-meth-moon-2016Laurel Daneau has moved on to a new life, in a new town, but inside she’s still reeling from the loss of her beloved mother and grandmother after Hurricane Katrina washed away their home. Laurel’s new life is going well, with a new best friend, a place on the cheerleading squad and T-Boom, co-captain of the basketball team, for a boyfriend. Yet Laurel is haunted by voices and memories from her past.

Where it takes place:

Pass Christian, Mississippi, Jackson, Mississippi and in the Midwest.

Where I wrote it:

In Park Slope, Brooklyn, and at the Macdowell Colony in Peterborough, New Hampshire

Why I wrote it:

I wanted to understand why someone would get involved in a drug that could ruined their life. And I wanted to understand the devastation of Katrina. Long after the news stopped reporting about it, people were still struggling. Laurel’s story is a hopeful one because I wanted to believe people survived hard circumstances and were able to move on.

Pecan Pie Baby

A heartwarming story for kids adjusting to the idea of a new family member.

Ilustrated by Sophie Blackall

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Gia is tired of hearing about the new baby. It hasn’t even been born yet, but everyone, even her friends, seem fixated on it. Gia thinks things are fine just the way they are! And she’s worried: if the baby’s such a big deal now, what’s going to happen to Gia’s nice, cozy life with Mama once it’s born?

Beloved author Jacqueline Woodson and Sophie Blackall have created a heartwarming story for kids adjusting to the idea of a new family member. Young readers will be reassured by Gia’s eventual understanding that the baby won’t ruin the special bond she has with her mom, and might even be a sweet addition to the family.

Where it takes place:

I imagined it taking place anywhere there was a new baby coming. :)

Where I wrote it:

Mostly in Brooklyn but for some of the rewrite, I was traveling. I remember editing it while I was on the beach somewhere. I only remember that because I didn’t want to be writing, I wanted to be just hanging at the beach!

Why I wrote it:

Jackson-Leroi – our son – was on the way and Toshi – our daughter – had decided, once she knew it was a boy, that she didn’t want a baby in the house after all. By then, of course, it was way, way, way too late. She’s since come to like him but she does complain about him breaking her toys! And yes, both of them love pecan pie. But I actually don’t like it very much.

Coming On Home Soon

Illustrated by EB Lewis

book coverIt is wartime, and women have to go to work while the men are off fighting. Ada Ruth’s mama has a job in Chicago and she must leave Ada Ruth and Grandma behind for a while.

Where it takes place:

Somewhere in the midwest during World War II

Where I wrote it:

At home in Brooklyn and at my house in Olive, New York

Why I wrote it:

I had been reading stories about Rosie the Riveter and couldn’t find any with African American women in them so I started researching. With the small amount of information I gathered, I began to write this book.

Awards
  • Caldecott Honor
  • ALA Notable 2005
  • Booklist Editor’s Choice
  • Child Magazine Best of 2004

We Had a Picnic This Sunday Past

Illustrated by Diane Greenseid

book coverTeeka and her grandmother go to the family picnic and boy! aren’t the others who come something to talk about!!

Where it takes place:

In Prospect Park in Brooklyn, New York

Where I wrote it:

In the Park Slope section of Brooklyn, New York

Why I wrote it:

To let myself remember how delicious picnics can be. (And to keep my promise of putting my niece, Teeka, in a book.)

The Other Side

Illustrated by E.B. Lewis

Two girls, Clover and Annie, become friends in a small, segregated town.

Where it takes place:

In a small rural town—I didn’t have a specific state in mind.

Where I wrote it:

Upstate in Olive, New York and at The Writer’s Room in Manhattan

Why I wrote it:

I wanted to write about how powerful kids can be. Clover and Annie fight against segregation by becoming friends. They don’t believe in the ideas adults have about things so they do what they can to change the world. We all have this power.

Awards
  • ALA Notable
  • Riverbank Review Children’s Book of Distinction
  • Texas Blue Bonnet List
  • School Library Journal Best Book
  • Booklist Editor’s Choice
  • New York Public Library’s 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing
  • 2001 Time of Wonder Award
  • IRA Teacher’s Choices 2002 (featured on covers of The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books, Booklist and The Baltimore Sun)
  • 2004 Louisiana Young Reader’s Choice Award (Honor)
  • 2003-2004 Pennsylvania Young Reader’s Choice Master List California Young Reader Medal Nominee
  • 2003-2004 South Carolina Book Award Nominee

Sweet Sweet Memory

Illustrated by Floyd Cooper

book coverSarah’s grandfather was a gardener. When he dies, he leaves behind his beliefs about the world and a harvest to help her remember him and know that the circle of life goes on and on.

Where it takes place:

I wanted it to be set somewhere in South Carolina

Where I wrote it:

At home in Brooklyn

Why I wrote it:

I wrote this book in memory of my grandfather, Ganaar, who was a gardener. Whenever I see beautiful gardens filled with vegetables or flowers, I think of him.

Our Gracie Aunt

Illustrated by Jon Muth

book coverJohnson and his sister Beebee have to take care of themselves after their mother leaves. Then they’re moved to the Aunt Gracie’s house and things start getting better.

Where it takes place:

In a city I do not name

Where I wrote it:

In my house in Brooklyn and on Whidbey Island off the coast of Seattle, Washington

Why I wrote it:

There are so many kids in foster care or living with relatives who are not their moms or dads. There are all kinds of families in the world and I wanted to write a book about this. What makes a family isn’t about who you live with but how much they love you.

Visiting Day

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Illustrated by James Ransome

A young girl looks forward to the day she gets to go visit her father. It only happens once a month and it’s a very special day.

Where it takes place:

In Brooklyn and in someplace north of New York City.

Where I wrote it:

In Brooklyn and at The MacDowell Colony in Peterborough, New Hampshire.

My Uncle Robert posing with us.
My younger brother and I visiting my Uncle Robert on “Visiting Day”

Why I wrote it:

Because once a month when I was a little girl, I would go upstate and visit my favorite uncle. I remember those days well and wanted to write about them. This book isn’t completely autobiographical but there is a lot of me in it.

Awards
  • 2003 Skipping Stones Honor Award

Show Way

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Illustrated by Hudson Talbott

This is the first time I’ve written a book based on some of my own family history. ’Show Ways”, or quilts, once served as secret maps for freedom-seeking slaves. This is the story of seven generations of girls and women who were quilters and artists and freedom fighters.

Where it takes place:

It begins in Virginia and ends right here in Brooklyn.

Where I wrote it:

The story began in my grandmother’s living room in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn. I wrote it here in Park Slope, Brooklyn mostly.

Why I wrote it:

After my grandmother died and my daughter was born, I wanted to figure out a way to hold on to all the amazing history in our family. I wanted a Show Way for my own daughter.

Awards
  • Newbery Honor Medal

Between Madison And Palmetto

book coverWhen Maizon returns to Brooklyn from Blue Hill, the boarding school she’s been attending, she’s not sure if she and Margaret will still be best friends.

Where it takes place:

In the Bushwick section of Brooklyn, New York

Where I wrote it:

In Bushwick and in Provincetown, Massachusetts

Why I wrote it:

A lot of readers wrote and asked what happened after Maizon got home from boarding school. I decided I’d write a trilogy.

Maizon At Blue Hill

book coverMaizon Singh is one of the few black girls at an all-white boarding school. She doesn’t feel like she belongs there and misses Madison Street and the family and friends she left behind.

Where it takes place:

In Connecticut in the fictionalized town of Canturbury

Where I wrote it:

In the Prospect Heights section of Brooklyn, New York and in San Francisco, California

Why I wrote it:
Japanese book cover
Japanese language version of “Maizon at Blue Hill”

I wanted to write Maizon’s side of the story and about what happens when she went away to boarding school. It was the first book I wrote that really dealt with racism.

Last Summer With Maizon

book coverMargaret and Maizon are best friends. When Margaret’s father dies and Maizon gets accepted to a boarding school in Connecticut, Margaret wonders if life on Madison Street will ever be the same again.

Where it takes place:

In the Bushwick section of Brooklyn, New York

Where I wrote it:

In the apartment I grew up in on Madison Street in Brooklyn, New York and in Garden City, Long Island.

Why I wrote it:

Growing up, there were very few books about black girls and even fewer about people like the people I knew in my neighborhood in Brooklyn. I wanted to write about the people I loved and the neighborhood that had been my home for many years. Last Summer With Maizon was my first novel.

Locomotion

locomotion-2016

Lonnie C. Motion has had some tough breaks in his life. But this fall, Lonnie’s fifth grade class is learning to write poetry and suddenly, Lonnie is finding the words to tell the world about his family, the fire that took his parents away, his little sister, his world.

Where it takes place:

In the Bedford Stuyvesant and Park Slope sections of Brooklyn, NY

Where I wrote it:

In Park Slope, Brooklyn.

Why I wrote it:

Lonnie’s voice was in my head. The poems started coming and the rest…the rest is this book, I guess.

Awards
  • National Book Award Finalist
  • Coretta Scott King Honor
  • 2003 Boston Globe–Horn Book Award (Fiction Honor)
  • Horn Book Fanfare List
  • School Library Journal Best Book
  • IRA-CBC Children’s Choice for 2004
  • 2004 Notable Children’s Books in the Language Arts (sponsored by the Children’s Literature Assembly of the National Council of Teachers of English)
  • 2005 New Mexico Battle of the Books (Middle School/Grades 7-9)
  • 2004-2005 Dorothy Canfield Fisher Master List (children’s choice award for Vermont)
  • 2005 Kentucky Bluegrass Master List (Grades 3-5)
  • 2006 Louisiana Young Readers Choice Award Nominee (Grades 3-5)
  • 2004-2005 Maine Student Book Award Nominee (Grades 4-8)
  • 2004-2005 William Allen White Children’s Book Award Nominee (Kansas children’s choice award)

Feathers

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“Feathers” takes place in the 1970s and begins when a boy walks into the classroom who is very different from the other kids there. Or maybe he isn’t so different…

Where it takes place:

I never name the place but was imagining this point between the Brooklyn and Queens border — right near Kennedy Airport.

Where I wrote it:

Here in Brooklyn and over the year while I was on the road.

Why I wrote it:

“Feathers” is a book I wrote because I wanted to write about the many ways people find Hope in the world.

Awards
  • Newbery Honor Meda

Peace Locomotion

peace-locomotion-2016Lonnie and his sister Lili are in foster care after the death of their parents. They live with separate families and this book is Lonnie’s letters to Lili that he writes to stay connected to her and as he says “to be the rememberer” while they are living separately.

Where it takes place:

In Brooklyn.

Where I wrote it:

In Brooklyn and also parts were written on planes as I traveled.

Why I wrote it:

I wanted Lonnie and Lili to find peace – within themselves and in the bigger world. The book started out being about one kind of peace and then became about the many ways we search for and eventually all kinds of peace.

Awards
  • Sunshine State Young Reader’s Award Master List for 2011-2012, Awarded by Florida State
  • Tennessee Volunteer State Book Award
  • Pennsylvania Young Reader’s Choice Awards
  • Keystone to Reading Book Award
  • North Carolina Children’s Book Award
  • Kansas State Reading Circle
  • Capitol Choices, Virginia
  • Maryland Black-Eyed Susan Book Award

Hush

hush-2016

When she is twelve, Toswiah and her older sister Cameron have to leave the place they’ve always known, change their identities and leave no trace of their past life. Toswiah becomes Evie. Her sister becomes Anna. In the new city, they have to reinvent themselves and figure out how to move on when just about everything they ever loved is behind them.

Where it takes place:

Denver, Colorado and an unnamed city in the United States.

Where I wrote it:

In Brooklyn and in Bennington, Vermont

Why I wrote it:

I read an article about the Witness Protection Program and it fascinated me. I kept asking myself “What if….”

Awards
  • National Book Award Finalist
  • 2003 ALA Best Book for Young Adults
  • School Library Journal Best Book
  • 2002 Booklist Editor’s Choice
  • 2003 New York Public Libraries Books for the Teen Age
  • Bank Street Best Children’s Books of the Year (“Today” category / 12 & up)
  • 2003 Riverbank Review Children’s Books of Distinction Short list
  • 2003-2004 Dorothy Canfield Fisher Award Master List
  • 2003-2004 Maine Student Book Award Master List
  • 2002 Pennsylvania School Librarians Association Young Adult Top 40 Nominees
  • 2004-2005 Maud Hart Lovelace Book Award Nominee (Grades 6-8) (children’s choice award for Minnesota)
  • 2005 Garden State Teen Book Award Nominee (NJ)

Behind You

behind-you-2016

Even after he dies, Jeremiah and the people he loved can’t seem to figure out how to move on. Told in vignettes, this is the story of two teenagers who suddenly lose each other.

Where it takes place:

Fort Greene, Brooklyn and Manhattan’s Upper West Side

Where I wrote it:

At home in Brooklyn and in Manhattan

Why I wrote it:

I had written a book called If You Come Softly. Once I finished that book, the characters still haunted me. Then 911 happened and I was faced with trying to figure out how we move on when we lose people so suddenly. I started thinking about it all and this book began.

Awards
  • 2005 YALSA Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers
  • YALSA Top Ten Best Books for Young Adults for 2005
  • New York Public Library Best Book for Teens 2005
  • ALA Best Book for Young Adults

If You Come Softly

if-you-come-softly-2016

If You Come Softly is about Jeremiah who is fifteen and black and Ellie who is fifteen and white. They meet at a private school and fall in love and then have to deal with how society treats them because they’re an interracial couple. It was inspired by a poem by Audre Lorde that begins:

If you come softly
as the wind within the trees
you may hear what I hear
see what sorrow sees.

Where it takes place:

In the Washington Heights section of Manhattan

Where I wrote it:

Whidbey Island which is off the coast of Seattle, Washington and in Olivebridge, NY

Why I wrote it:

I wrote If You Come Softly because I wanted to write about first love—how hard it can be and how great it is. I also wanted to write about being fifteen because I remember that age very well. As I was writing it, I came across some lines from Romeo and Juliet and realized this story was a modern-day Romeo and Juliet. The enemies to Jeremiah and Ellie’s love are racism, police brutality and people’s general stupidity. I also wanted to write about Time—about how fleeting it is, how important it is to love who you want and be who you want in the moment so that you don’t look back and think “I should have…” or “I could have…”

German book cover
German language version of “If You Come Softly”
Awards
  • ALA Best Book for Young Adults
  • Award Nominee (all readers)
  • 2001 Detroit Public Library Author’s Day Award

Miracle’s Boys

miracles-boys-2016

Three brothers who are orphaned by the death of their mother, are trying to get by. Twelve year old Lafayette tells the story of what happens to him and his older brothers, fifteen year old Charlie and twenty-one year old Ty’ree, after Charlie comes home from a juvenile detention center where he has spent time for armed robbery.

Where it takes place:

In the Washington Heights section of Manhattan

Where I wrote it:

Whidbey Island which is off the coast of Seattle, Washington and in Olivebridge, NY

Why I wrote it:
Japanese book cover
Japanese language version
of “Miracle’s Boys”

I wanted to write a story that had no girls in it. I also wanted to write about how hard it is to be poor sometimes. I also wanted to write about how hard it is to lose someone you love—in this case, both parents—and how that pain starts shaping itself into other things sometimes like anger and isolation. Most of all, I wanted to write about three brothers who are funny, handsome, searching, and caring of one another.

Awards
  • Coretta Scott King Award
  • Los Angeles Times Book Prize
  • ALA Best Book for Young Adults
  • Sequoyah Book Award Master List, Young Adult Category
  • 2003-2004 Sunshine State Master List (grades 6-8)
  • 2003-2004 Georgia Children’s Book Award nominee

From the Notebooks of Melanin Sun

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Thirteen year old Melanin Sun has a great life with his single mom. He feels like she’s the person he can tell anything to. His friends think she’s beautiful and tease Melanin about how they’d love to go on dates with her. Then one day, his mother brings a white woman named Kristin home. Melanin dislikes Kristin the minute he meets her and because of her, his life with his mother will never be the same again.

Where it takes place:

In the Flatbush section of Brooklyn, New York

Where I wrote it:

In Provincetown, Massachusetts and in California’s Napa Valley

Why I wrote it:

This was the first time I wrote from the point of view of a boy. I wanted to challenge myself and see if I could actually do it. I also wanted to write about different kinds of love and different kinds of families because I hadn’t seen many books written about what Melanin goes through. Just like with If You Come Softly, I wanted to say that it’s important to love who you want as long as you’re happy.

Awards
  • Coretta Scott King Honor

I Hadn’t Meant To Tell You This

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Marie and Lena are both motherless. Marie is black and well off. Lena is white and poor. And in the small town of Chauncey, Ohio blacks and whites don’t mix. But Lena and Marie become friends anyway. One of them has a terrible secret and the other must decide—Is it best to keep it? Or should she tell someone fast?

Where it takes place:

In the small town of Chauncey, Ohio

Where I wrote it:

Provincetown, Massachusetts and Brooklyn, New York.

Why I wrote it:

I wanted to write a novel about friendship and in it, I wanted to show how destructive racism and classism can be. I also wanted to write about the “secret” in the book—to say to young readers—”Don’t be afraid. You are not alone.”

Awards
  • Coretta Scott King Honor

Lena

book coverWhen things get too bad at home, twelve year old Lena and her eight year old sister, Dion, run away. Dressed as boys to make it easier for them on the road, they travel from Ohio to Kentucky looking for a safe place to call “home”.

Where it takes place:

West Virginia and Kentucky

Where I wrote it:

In the Park Slope section of Brooklyn and in Peterborough, New Hampshire at the MacDowell Colony.

Why I wrote it:

I wrote Lena because I got so many letters asking me about the end of I Hadn’t Meant To Tell You This. I hadn’t planned to write a sequel but I’m glad I did.

The House You Pass On The Way

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Evangeline (nickname Staggerlee) meets her adopted cousin Trout for the first time the summer they are both thirteen. The two girls form a strong friendship and learn a lot from each other about what it means to be the children of heroes and what it means to grow up in a world that isn’t tolerant.

Where it takes place:

In South Carolina in the fictionalized town of Sweet Gum

Where I wrote it:

In Provincetown, Massachusetts and in Brooklyn, New York

Why I wrote it:

I wanted to write about the south—something I hadn’t really done before. I wanted to write about friendship and I wanted to write about what it means to love someone—how painful and confusing that can be.

The Dear One

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Rebecca is fifteen and pregnant and poor. Afeni is twelve, wealthy, spoiled, and doesn’t care to have a pregnant girl living in her house even if the girl is the daughter of her mother’s best friend from college. From day one, the girls hate each other and must figure out how to live under the same roof with each other and all of their opposing ideas.

Where it takes place:

In Pennsylvania in the fictionalized town of Seton

Where I wrote it:

In Harlem, New York and in Brooklyn, New York

Why I wrote it:

The Dear One was the second novel I ever wrote. I wanted to write about teenage pregnancy. At the time I was working with runaway and homeless young people—many of whom were pregnant. I wanted to write a novel that spoke to them.

After Tupac and D Foster

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The first time Tupac is shot, D Foster walks into the lives of Neeka and her best friend. From that point on, no one’s world is ever the same. D Foster lives with her foster mom who lets her ‘roam’ while Neeka and the narrator aren’t even allowed to leave their block. But the three soon realize they have a lot in common – including their love of Tupac – his lyrics, his life, the way he keeps on keeping on and this helps them move through the years between 11 and 13 in search of their Big Purpose even as the narrator’s brother is wrongly accused of a crime and gets sent to jail and D’s absent mom keeps disappointing her.

Where it takes place:

In Queens, New York.

Where I wrote it:

Mostly here in Brooklyn.

Why I wrote it:

I think Tupac was an amazing activist and I wanted to create a story around his story. The more I wrote, the more there was to say – about Tupac and about the girls.

Awards
  • Newbery Honor Medal
  • 2009 Josette Frank Award