Inspiring the next generation


By Christine Bryant
Staff Writer


Writing has always been a part of Angela Johnson’s life.

“I knew that all the things I wanted to express I could express through stores and poetry,” the award-winning children’s author said. “As no one told me that I couldn’t be a writer, I just continued wanting to be one.”

Johnson is hoping to inspire the next generation of authors to do what they love by coming to the Westside as part of the Columbus Metropolitan Library’s Teen Read Week, Oct. 18-24. Johnson will visit the Hilltop branch, 511 S. Hague Ave., at 6:30 p.m. Oct. 20, to discuss the ins and outs of the writing process and share ways to keep creativity blooming.

Johnson is the author of more than 40 children’s titles, including “The First Part Last” and “Bird and Heaven.” She is also a three-time Coretta Scott King Award winner.

“Sitting and talking to children and teens is the best way to share what you know, and learn from them also,” she said. “The most asked questions are always about what a simple day for me is. It’s the most interesting question actually, because kids are always trying to find that basic human connection.”

Her answer – sipping coffee in PJs and watching cartoons.

“They get that my life is just another person on another day, even if that person writes books,” she said.

Johnson began writing poetry in the second grade and kept a diary in the third. She admits, however, at times as a child she also wanted to be a teacher, welder, attorney, nanny and someone who made Hostess Twinkies. Writing ultimately became her dream, however.

“I wrote moody poetry through high school and continued doing so through college,” she said. “Finding your voice as a writer sometimes is a meandering trail.”

But soon, she knew what she wanted to write when she came upon a Virginia Hamilton book called “Sweet Whispers, Brother Rush.”

“This young adult novel mesmerized me,” she said. “It was dense and ethereal, yet gritty and painful. Amazing.”

Johnson thought if only she could move someone with her own words as this book had moved her. It was then, with the help of her mentor, Cynthia Rylant, that she became a published author.

“She was a gentle mentor and truly opened my eyes to the possibility that someone might want to read what I had to write,” Johnson said.

She officially began her writing career in 1989 with the publication of a picture book called,
“Tell Me a Story, Mama,” which won the Ezra Jack Keats New Writer Award in 1991. Another book of hers, “When I Am Old With You,” was named an Honor Book in 1990 and named an American Library Association Notable Book, and Johnson was honored in 2003 as a MacArthur Fellow.

Born in Tuskegee, Ala., in 1961, she grew up in Alabama and Ohio. She now lives in Kent, Ohio.

For more information on Angela Johnson or Teen Read Week, go to or

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