Great news, poetry people! Jacqueline Woodson is the new young people's poet laureate! The author of Brown Girl Dreaming will receive a $25,000 cash prize and serve a two year term. And I think we can all agree the position is well deserved.
The young people's poet laureate is chosen by The Poetry Foundation, and the two-year position involves advising the Foundation "on matters relating to young people’s literature" and helping to "instill a lifelong love of poetry among the nation’s developing readers." And Woodson, who has written 25 books over the course of her career, in both prose and verse, and who won the 2014 National Book Award for Young People's Literature for her verse memoir Brown Girl Dreaming, seems like an excellent choice.
"Jacqueline Woodson is an elegant, daring, and restlessly innovative writer," Poetry Foundation president Robert Polito said in the official announcement. "So many writers settle on a style and a repertoire of gestures and subjects, but Woodson, like her characters, is always in motion and always discovering something fresh."
In an interview with Poetry Foundation, Woodson said that one of her priorities in the position was to make poetry something for everyone. "I want to ... make sure all people know that poetry is a party everyone is invited to," she said. "I think many people believe and want others to believe that poetry is for the precious, entitled, educated few. And that’s just not true." She continued to explain that poetry comes in many forms, from rap to tweets, and that she wants to help "[give] voices to and back to young silenced people."
Although literature for children and teens has become much more popular and prominent lately, and although more and more young people are reading, poetry doesn't appear to be enjoying the same widespread popularity. Whether that's because they avoid poetry or because books of poetry or verse novels are not often marketed to teens and children is difficult to say, but both explanations likely have something to do with Woodson's observation that poetry is seen as more "elite."
Getting kids to see poetry something accessible, something that is for young people as much as for anyone, is no easy feat, but Woodson seems like the perfect person to take up the challenge, and hopefully make a difference.
Congratulations, Jacqueline Woodson!