Jacqueline Woodson on Writing ‘Another Brooklyn,’ a ‘Record’ of the Bushwick She Knew

In a recent reading and conversation, Jacqueline Woodson, celebrated poet and author, read from her acclaimed novel Another Brooklyn and spoke to Graduate Center Professor Dána-Ain Davis (GC/Queens; Anthropology/Urban Studies), director of the Center for the Study of Women and Society, which organized the event, about the book, her writing in general, her motivations, and her methods. About 300 people attended the event held on Zoom. 

Woodson said that she was moved to write Another Brooklyn after returning to Bushwick, where she grew up, after her mom died “and seeing how much it had changed and how it had become this place that was ‘cool’ again.” She called it “gentrification Columbusing,” white people laying claim to a place that others inhabited. “We were the people that were in that neighborhood before it was that neighborhood that became much whiter and, to some people’s perception, much cooler and artsier,” Woodson said. “I said to myself, I’m not going to let them erase us.” She knew then that she “wanted to write the record” of the Bushwick that she remembered. 

In Another Brooklyn, August, an anthropologist who studies burial rituals, shares her memories of “growing up Girl” in Bushwick in the 1970s to 1990s, surrounded by a tight-knit group of friends. The book is Woodson’s second adult novel. She has written dozens of books for children and young adults, including Brown Girl Dreaming, her National Book Award–winning memoir written in verse.

Woodson described other aspects of her writing process. “What I learned from writing for young people is that a book doesn’t have to have a happy ending as long as there’s hope somewhere in the narrative, and so I’m always trying to center that hope in the story,” she said.

Woodson writes multiple books simultaneously, and she spent three to four years on this book. A chunk of that time involved “sitting with the narrative and trying to figure out how I was going to pace the story, how I was going to tell it.” She also took her time with the language. “Everything I write I read out loud, so if it doesn’t sound right, I have to rewrite it, reshape it on the page.” 

While the pandemic has disrupted her routines, she still regularly devotes five or six hours a day to writing, finding time when she can be alone with her headphones on and a playlist at hand (“It spans the gamut”: Joni Mitchell, Lil Nas X, James Taylor, Tierra Whack, Lizzo.) When she’s ready, she shows her work to singer Toshi Reagon, a close friend and Godmom to Woodson’s daughter. “She has a really good set of eyes and she’s so ding dang wise,” Woodson said.

In terms of writing advice, Woodson said she likes Katherine Paterson’s BIC principle: butt in chair. “The hardest thing about writing is writing,” she said.  

The event was part of The Graduate Center’s “GC Presents” series and was co-sponsored with the Center for the Humanities, the Feminist Press, the Gotham Center for New York City History, The Graduate Center Ph.D. programs in Comparative Literature and English, the Institute for Research on the African Diaspora in the Americas and the Caribbean (IRADAC), The Graduate Center Library, the PublicsLab, and Women Writing Women’s Lives.

Published by the Office of Communications and Marketing

Submitted on: MAR 12, 2021

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