Renee Watson

Who was your first “author idol” and why?

I’m not sure Sandra Cisneros was my first, but she is definitely a writer that influences my work. Reading House on Mango Street as a child gave me permission to one day write about my own hometown, its complexities, its beauty. Her poetry and prose break open the boxes that girls and women are often forced to be confined in. Her girl characters are bold, brave, flawed, curious, vulnerable. I needed to read characters like that. I needed that as an example of what was possible.

What compelled you to write about the topic/character in your book?

I’m really interested in stories that show how the intersections of gender, race, and class impact a character’s life. Jade is a black girl who is very smart and talented. She is also economically poor and is a plus size girl with dark skin. Depending on where she is—in her predominantly black neighborhood, her mostly white school, or shopping in the mall with her white friend—she is treated a certain way based on how those identities are perceived. I wanted to write a story that explored intersectionality, that showed a girl trying to piece all the parts of herself together in order to remain emotionally whole.

I also wanted to write a story where the girl could be her own hero. Piecing Me Together has no romantic relationship. Instead, Jade is learning how to love herself, how to advocate for herself and be complete without a love interest coming in to save the day. It was important for me to create strong relationships between Jade and other female characters. I wanted to show how women heal each other, how we hold each other up.

What was your first experience with the power of language?

One of my earliest memories of realizing the power of language was when I wrote a poem as a gift for my godfather. I was about eight. I adored him and wanted to give him something on his birthday but I couldn’t afford a gift. I wrote him a poem and felt so embarrassed that I wasn’t able to give him something expensive, something more grand. After he opened it and read it, he cried and couldn’t stop thanking me. He told me he was going to keep it always.

I didn’t know words could move someone to tears—that my words could touch someone so deeply. Something happened in that moment. I felt powerful. At such a tender age I realized I had a gift, that I could move people with my words. I was hooked on writing from that moment on.