Saturday, September 21, 2019

A ten-point Jacqueline Woodson post for Red at the Bone

1. It’s 1995 and I am working at Harry W. Schwartz Bookshop, buying the new books from Tom, my Penguin rep. You might remember Tom from when he and I formed Team C.O.T. (City of Thieves). We were so looking forward to David Benioff’s novel, but he took up his time with this Game of Thrones thing. Tom pulls out his Dutton catalog and talks up this novel from Jacqueline Woodson called Autobiography of a Family Photo. He loves it! I feature it on our Schwartz 100.

2. Jacqueline Woodson’s kids books go on to become huge successes. Brown Girl Dreaming seemingly wins every award, including the National Book Award for Young People. Woodson visits Milwaukee for the Wisconsin Reading Association conference and teacher after teacher comes to tell us what a wonderful speaker Woodson is. We hoped that maybe a public event could be added on to this, but the schedule is too tight.

3. While we don’t host Woodson for a kids book, we are thrilled to be part of her tour for Another Brooklyn not long after. We cohost a public event at the Milwaukee Public Library. The book is beautiful and has a reference to Abraham & Strauss. Yes, this is my second reference to A&S in as many blog posts. It was a very nice store and holds a lot of memories. And apparently, not just for me.

We had hoped to bring Woodson to an area school, promising the kids would read Another Brooklyn. After a lot of negotiation, it was set up, only we then realized the school was not in session! Instead, we hosted kids at Boswell as part of the author’s Young People’s Ambassador work for the National Poetry Foundation. Most of the kids get a copy of After Tupac and D. Foster. What a day!

4. In 2018 I went to Book Expo and waited in line for a signed print of Jacqueline Woodson’s forthcoming picture book, The Day You Begin. I also got a signed copy of Harbor Me, her YA novel, for one of our booksellers. It went on to be one of his top five books for the year. I got to chat with the author, and she remembered her visit to Milwaukee fondly. That’s good, I thought. Maybe she’ll come back someday. Unfortunately, the carton with the print and a bunch of reading copies for Boswell got lost on the way back from the show. Sigh.

5. Chris and I visited New York to pitch events to publishers last February. I pitched my heart out for Woodson for her upcoming novel (also for adults), Red at the Bone. I so wanted to do that high school event with Friend-of-Boswell Kelly. I had some great ideas for our public event too. And then, you wait.

6. I get to read Red at the Bone. It’s more than I could hope. My thoughts: “Jacqueline Woodson’s latest dreamily moves between characters and across time as she chronicles the lives of two families brought together by a teen pregnancy and fractured when the still-teenage mother leaves them behind for a far-away college. Issues of race, class and sexual identity play out in the family, from memories of the Tulsa Race Massacre to the two family’s economic differences, to the mother’s secretive relationship with a fellow student in college. Music swirls through the narrative, from the jazz clubs of Oakland to a 1990s Wu Tang Clan concert to the sounds of Prince at a coming-of-age party. And words swirl through the story too; Red at the Bone might be called a novel, but it’s surely as much a poem, a shimmering ode to survival.”

7. We get the chance to host Woodson. The school comes together. 300 Milwaukee Public School students will read Red at the Bone and then meet with Woodson and Dasha Kelly Hamilton for a facilitated discussion. Amazing! We’re so grateful for this. Thanks, Kelly.

8. The public event comes together. It’s our annual Rose Petranech Lecture, in memory of one of our wonderful customers -  not only a voracious reader, but a Diversity Officer at Marquette University. The event is ticketed with a book (link here). In the spirit of Rose's life work, we aimed to partner with several organizations – Public Allies, Diverse + Resilient, Alice’s Garden - to bring folks in who might not normally attend a ticketed event at Boswell.

9. Red at the Bone is released. Reviews are great! Here’s Joshunda Sanders in Time: “A treasure awaits readers who encounter Red at the Bone, who descend the staircase with a loose step as 16-year-old Melody does in her coming-of-age party at the start of the novel. Jacqueline Woodson’s latest book for adults looks at a middle-class black family in Brooklyn and the struggles and triumphs that brought them to this moment, celebrating the daughter who was the unexpected product of a teenage romance. The novel is both a uniquely black story about multigenerational love and upward mobility - and a universal American tale of striving, failing, then trying again.”

10. The missing carton from Book Expo is recovered, over a year after it went missing. It’s addressed to me and the box has been opened. Inside is the signed print of The Day You Begin. What an unexpected gift! We framed at East Side Gallery, and it now welcomes folks who enter Boswell. Tickets are $28 and still available at

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