She’s changing the world one page at a time.
One of the borough’s own award-winning authors will travel the country over the next two years to promote the power of reading and literature to young people across the nation.
The Library of Congress named Jacqueline Woodson as the sixth National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature earlier this month, and her platform — “reading equals hope times change” — is meant to inspire youngsters to harness their own power to help believe in and create a better future, she said.
“Reading gives us hope. When we read about the people who came before us and fictional characters who overcome the odds, it gives us this sense of what we can do ourselves,” said Woodson, who lives in Park Slope. “When we have hope and information, we can create change.”
Woodson is the author of more than two dozen books for kids and young adults, and her list of accolades is long. She took home the country’s top literary prize — the National Book Award — in 2014 for her memoir, “Brown Girl Dreaming,” and was a finalist for the prestigious award three other times, including in 2016 for her most recent book, “Another Brooklyn.” She is also a two-time winner of the Coretta Scott King award, which honors African-American authors who write about the black experience for a youth audience, and is a four-time winner of the Newbery Honor, one of the most prestigious awards for children’s literature.
Woodson’s devotion to exploring the experiences of kids through her writing contributed to her appointment, and will help her communicate the power of literature to young minds, according to the Librarian of Congress.
“I have admired Jacqueline Woodson’s work for years, especially her dedication to children and young-adult literature,” said Carla Hayden. “The Library of Congress looks forward to Jacqueline’s tenure of encouraging young readers to embrace reading as a means to improve the world.”
In her role as literary ambassador, Woodson will travel to schools and libraries — as well as less-expected venues, such as prisons and juvenile-detention centers — to converse with young bookworms from all backgrounds about how books have changed them in an effort to forge connections between readers, she said.
“I would love to go to prisons, I would love to go to juvenile-detention centers, group homes, any place where people have not had the same kinds of opportunities to gather and talk about literature and feel safe,” she said.
She hosted her first event on Jan. 11 on the distant isle of Manhattan, where she talked to middle schoolers at a local bookstore. But Woodson will also make a special effort to visit rural parts of the country to promote the work of diverse writers, she said. And even though she’s assuming her post during a particularly divisive moment, Woodson said she does not plan to get too political, and will instead try to teach tiny readers to be change-makers by developing empathy through reading.
“We teach social justice through literature. [Kids] learn about kindness, hope, fear, caring, and then as they get older they begin to understand those things on a deeper level,” she said. “Literature should be for people to lose themselves in an emotional journey, but when they come out of that journey they’re different, they’re changed.”
Woodson said her home borough is a welcome respite from her travels. She enjoys walking and running in Prospect Park on writing breaks, and even set one of her two books due out in August, “The Dream of America” — a novel about a diverse group of friends working through personal struggles together — in Crown Heights.
“I just love Brooklyn, it’s my home, I grew up in Bushwick,” she said. “Brooklyn feels like part of my skin, and I thought Crown Heights was an interesting place to set a book because of how it’s changing so rapidly, for the good and the bad.”
And by the end of her two-year term, Woodson hopes she will have persuaded enough kids — and adults — to pick up more books and feel more confident in their own abilities to make the world a better place.
“I do think that by the end of two years, my hope is that a lot more people have much deeper understanding of the power of literature in our lives,” she said. “But in order for times to change, we also have to do the work.”