IN JACQUELINE’S OWN WORDS…I am a writer who is Brooklyn To The Bone even though I was born in Columbus, Ohio and spent the early part of my life in Greenville, South Carolina. I definitely have the South in my blood but Brooklyn seems to ebb and flow from all that I do. It is where I live now with my partner and daughter, where many of my close friends are, where I write and think about writing, the lens through which I watch the world.
How long have you been writing and how did you get started?
I’ve been publishing books since 1990 (my first novel was a book called LAST SUMMER WITH MAIZON). I always knew I wanted to write so I just did it. I took a great writing class with a woman named Margaret Gabel at the New School in NYC. I learned a lot there. But mostly, I learned from readers other writers and writing everyday. And just remaining hopeful.
Give a brief synopsis of your book, From the Notebooks of Melanin Sun.
It’s hard to talk about my own work this way. To me, Melanin Sun is the story of a boy trying to figure out who he is in a changing world.
How long did it take you to write From the Notebooks of Melanin Sun?
About four years. I’m usually working on more than one book at once. When I was working on Melanin Sun, I had just published my first adult novel (Autobiography of a Family Photo) and was touring for that. I was also working on some picture books and a sequel to another book I’d written.
Tell us about the main character, Melanin Sun.
He’s the son I’d want to have — he cares about the environment. He loves his mama. He’s just this
cool, confused boy who keeps ‘notebooks’ and is trying to figure it all out.
What was the significance of Melanin’s notebooks?
To show Melanin Sun’s inner-monologues — the stuff he can’t articulate.
Where did you get the idea for Melanin, as you said it was the first time you had written from the perspective of a boy?
I wanted to write about queer parenting — from the perspective of someone whose mom is just coming out. I wanted to write about identity — and how it’s impacted.
Describe the relationship between Melanin and his mother, Encanta.
They have a loving relationship. For a long time, they’re each other’s best friends.
The relationship between Melanin and his mother changes after she discloses her love for a woman. How did you create such an honest inner dialogue as Melanin comes to terms with his mother’s sexuality?
I just wrote and rewrote and kept going “Well what would I think if I was EC? Well what would I think if I was Mel.” I just got in both of their heads and tried to keep it real.
Why did you decide to make Encanta’s partner Caucasian?
I don’t know, she just came to me that way. Also, I thought it would help to make the relationship stand out in the predominantly Black community Mel and EC lived in.
Do you think it would have been easier for Melanin to accept if his mother’s partner had been black?
I think if the girlfriend had been black, it would have been easier for Mel to lie about what the relationship was.
As a gay parent, when do you feel is the right time to tell your child about your sexuality?
My daughter was born into a family with two moms. So she’s always known this as ‘family.’ Most of her closest friends (my best friends and my partner’s friends) are queer families. So I don’t really have a context for this question. I think if I had come out already having had children, it would be different. But that’s not my story. My partner and I planned the pregnancy. Our daughter knows she has two moms living with her, a papa who doesn’t live with us but who she sees regularly, a half-sister, a slew of cousins and aunties, etc. We have an amazing extended family so that’s what she knows.
You wrote in a 2003 Essence article that, “Like writing, motherhood has always been a dream of mine….And even after I came out as a lesbian, this vision didn’t change.” How has being a mother changed you?
Oh goodness – -how HASN’T it changed me?!! I’m happier most days, I’m more cautious, I’m more ambitious to create a world my children can be safe in. So many things.
What kind of reception has your book received from both children and adults, particularly gay parents?
People seem really excited that I’m out here writing about lives in a way young people can understand. I’ve gotten letters from gay parents saying “Thank you.” And I’ve also gotten a lot of flack from straight, right-wingers. But for the most part, I get a lot of love for what I do.
What projects are you working currently working on?
I have a book coming out in March (FEATHERS), I’m working on a screenplay for my book, HUSH, and I have some picture books coming out.
What motivates you to write?
I just want to be able to tell stories that matter — to me — and to others. I feel like I’ve been called to do this and I want to do the work I was brought here to do.
What is a typical day like for you?
These days, I try to write about four to five hours a day. I travel a lot for my writing and those days, I’m on planes and in front of people speaking about my writing. Usually, when I’m home, I drop my daughter off at nursery school, do a bunch of household stuff, then try to work. But stuff like email, interviews, bios, etc. also have to get done and the more I write, the more I get asked to do this so my writing day — which used to be about 8 hours is now much shorter.
What do you do for fun?
Hang with friends and family, sew, ride my bike, drink wine, cook, travel.
What are your favorite books? Favorite authors?
So many. I can’t even begin to begin!
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
I hope this world is still standing and we’re all safe in it. I mean, giving the current state of things, most times I find myself asking the universe to give us all just one more day.
What piece of advice can you share with aspiring writers?
Write and believe that you have a right to tell your stories.
Although it comes from the perspective of a 13-year-old boy, your book admirably portrays an important aspect of lesbian parenting. Why do you feel it’s important for black lesbians to tell their own stories, like you’ve done in From the Notebooks of Melanin Sun?
In SHOW WAY, I talk about the things we passed on. Our stories are important for the people coming up behind us. They have a right to know we’ve been here and that we’ve been BUSY!
Interviewed Aug-Sept 2006
Jaqueline Woodson’s Reviews