Author speaks on representation in young adult literature


Author Jacqueline Woodson discussed her love for writing and her role as a voice for African-Americans in young adult literature during the keynote lecture at the sixth biennial Conference of Children’s Literature in English, Education and Library Science on Saturday in the Kansas State Student Union.

During her lecture titled “Behind the Books,” Woodson said she struggled to see herself represented in the books she read growing up, so she decided to be that voice for today’s generation of young adults.

“For me, as a writer, I recognize every time I sit down to write that I’m writing first for me and for what I was missing in my own childhood,” Woodson said. “And then, I’m writing for the many people who are looking for the same thing.”

Woodson said she wants to open up the conversation on representation, or lack thereof, of various segments of humanity in literature.

“To go into the world of literature and open books and not see myself in those books, I felt like I was being lied to,” Woodson said. “I didn’t understand why there weren’t mirrors of myself in the literature, but there were mirrors of me outside of the literature.”

Woodson, author of “Brown Girl Dreaming” and “Another Brooklyn,” said her intent aligns with the unchanging essence of childhood: the desire to belong.

Brittany Shryock, junior in elementary education, said there are always ways to improve and diversify the classroom.

“Developing a tone in the classroom where children can just write what they feel is really important,” Shryock said. “Using poetry in the classroom is a great tool for learning.”

Woodson said one of her biggest dreams is to have everyone come together and have tough conversations involving sexuality, race and hardships they may face.

“One of the things that happen when we have the hard conversations is that it becomes easier,” Woodson said. “It becomes less painful.”

In having these conversations, Woodson said we can tackle large, pervasive issues like cyberbullying.

“It is so easy to say something mean on the internet and not get a sense of how you just made someone feel,” Woodson said. “If we gather and use literature as a jump-off, we can have these bigger, deeper conversations.”

Melinda Huber, junior in elementary education, said she is going to take what she learned in Woodson’s lecture and transfer it to a classroom environment.

“I think it is important to learn from this talk and take away what I can from it to apply it to a classroom setting,” Huber said.