Woodson's seventh grade English teacher returned her first short story to her with the comment, "You are the real thing." This work explores how Woodson became "the real thing," why she deserves to be acknowledged as one of the finest writers for young adults today, who her literary mentors have been, and how her family history has helped to shape her as an artist, beginning with the success of her first novel, Last Summer with Maizon. Its appearance in 1990 marked Woodson's arrival on the literary scene for young adults. Over the past decade, Woodson has made a steady contribution to the field, providing quality literature for both younger and older adolescents and tackling difficult themes in the process. Additionally, Woodson has published numerous short stories, essays and commentaries, a novel for adults, and children's picture books. In 1994, she compiled A Way Out of No Way: Writings About Growing Up Black in America, a collection of excerpts of writers from Baldwin to Bambura. These writers inspired her as a young reader and continue to be role models for her as she herself uses the art of writing to provide a "way out of no way" for other young readers, pointing a "beautiful black finger toward a holy, holy place" (p. 3). As Woodson has taken an increasing number of risks with her themes, she has also continued to develop as an artist. Her body of work makes a distinctive contribution to the young adult literary world and clearly demonstrates both the writer's commitment to young adults and her ability to continue to grow as a writer; this volume includes a critical analysis of how Woodson's life and work intertwine and of the themes and her own goals as a writer and artist. As Woodson herself notes," I feel compelled to write against stereotypes, hoping people will see that some issues know no color, class, sexuality. . . . I write from the very depth of who I am, and in this place there are all of my identities."