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Festival of Books: Why Jacqueline Woodson used poetry in 'Brown Girl Dreaming'

Jacqueline Woodson on her writing style: 'If you have no road map, you have to create your own'

When Jacqueline Woodson writes, she hopes to do something new, potentially outside of the bounds of what some may call tradition. 

“With my writing, I try to do stuff I have not done before,” she said. “Each time I sit down, I want to have a new experience and, by extension, I want my readers to have a different experience."

Woodson spoke with David Levithan on Sunday at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books to talk about her writing and her style.

FULL COVERAGE: FESTIVAL OF BOOKS

"Brown Girl Dreaming," winner of the 2014 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, is a perfect example of it.

The book is a memoir written through poems. Such a format was unheard of prior to Woodson's work, according to Levithan.

But for Woodson, poetry seemed to be the best format to tell the story. "Memory doesn't come as a straight narrative," she said about why she didn’t choose prose. "It comes in small moments with all this white space."

Levithan credited Woodson with being daring and innovative about writing young adult literature well before other authors caught on.

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And the types of stories she put into books, he said, wasn’t being done. In her books, which include "Coming on Home Soon," "Locomotion" and "Miracle’s Boys," themes of gender, sexual identity, race and sexual abuse are commonplace.

To Woodson, addressing such topics worked best for her because they were familiar. "If you have no road map, you have to create your own," she said.

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