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The 16th century was a thrilling time for books, at least for those who could afford them: building a respectable personal library (even if it didn’t include novelties like the books that open six different ways and the wheels that made it possible to rotate through many open books at once) took serious resources. Hernando Colón, the illegitimate son of Christopher Columbus, seems to have commanded such resources: as The Guardian’s Alison Flood writes, he “made it his life’s work to create the biggest library the world had ever known in the early part of the 16th century. Running to around 15,000 volumes, the library was put together during Colón’s extensive travels” and ultimately contained everything from the works of Plato to posters pulled from tavern walls.
What does a bilingual book mean for its readers? Language is about access, intelligibility, power. A bilingual text can flip the exclusion that migrants experience every day. A bilingual text can hold an intimacy, a fluency, a wholeness which cannot be translated into either or any of its languages alone.
For me, writing my own meant more than including phrases in Portuguese here and there; it meant creating a novel with a Brazilian orality, a disrupted Latin American chronology and a 21st-century refusal to punctuate, but set in SW17. As a child I fantasised about being an author, but worried how I would write bilingually – there didn’t seem to me to be any books doing this. Now, an adult, I have found so many – and here are just a few that I love.
We’ll have to wait until September 17 for Woodson’s latest novel. (It’s going to be a long, hot summer!) But in the meantime, Woodson revealed the cover of Red at the Bone exclusively to OprahMag.com and spoke to O’s Books Editor Leigh Haber about her travels as US Ambassador for Young People’s Literature and her undying love for Brooklyn. She also shared her hopes for Red at the Bone, which she dedicates to “the ancestors, a long line of you bending and twisting, bending and twisting.”