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IN A GRAND BALLROOM at the American Library Association's midwinter meeting in January, scores of librarians stood tip and cheered--clapping and grinning like falls at a Mary J. Blige concert. The object of their affection? Jacqueline Woodson, the author of more than 20 books for children and teens. Just moments earlier, the 42-year-old writer had been named the winner of this year's Margaret A. Edwards Award, and the audience was thrilled with the choice. The award, overseen by the Young Adult Library Services Association and sponsored by School Library Journal, honors an author's lifetime contributions to young people's literature.
Since her first book, Last Summer with Maizon, appeared in 1990, Woodson's works have attracted legions of fans. Her spare, lyrical novels tackle some of society's thorniest issues, including sexual abuse; interracial relationships; sexual identity; and the sad effects of poverty, prejudice, and violence. Yet Woodson's stories are never bleak. Indeed, her books are a celebration of the resiliency of young people. In honoring Woodson's work, the Edwards committee cited five of her novels: I Hadn't Meant to Tell You This (1994) and its sequel, Lena (1998, all Delacorte); From the Notebooks of Melanin Sun (Scholastic, 1995); If You Come Softly (1998); and Miracle's Boys (2000, both Putnam), the Coretta Scott King Award--winning tale of three young, parentless brothers, which was made into a TV miniseries.
As a girl, Woodson used to tell people that she was going to be a teacher, lawyer, or hairdresser. But her actions told a different tale. "I wrote oll everything and everywhere," she says on her Web site (www.jacquelinewoodson.com). "I wrote on paper bags and my shoes and denim binders. I chalked stories across sidewalks and penciled tiny tales in notebook margins. I loved and still love watching words flower into sentences and sentences blossom into stories."
These days, Woodson …