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Isn't this the geekiest looking kid you've ever seen? I think I was born wearing spectacles. I must have been 7 or 8, here, on a street in Harlem.
The rest of my childhood was spent in New York City. What schools did I attend? That's an impossible question for me because I was moved around so often. I spent a few years in Brooklyn, in some of the meanest streets where gang fights were as regular as rain. Some days, I wondered if I would survive. In fact, I never imagined that I'd get to be as old as I am! I'd talk my way out of a fight whenever I could, but when I couldn't I learned to defend myself. I still have scars to remind me of that time. I am not proud of those scars, only grateful that I lived to tell the story. So far, none of my characters have been through half of what I have.

I don't remember the names of the schools I attended in Brooklyn, but I do remember Stitt Junior High School in Washington Heights. Those years were rough, but I read and wrote my way through them. In fact, when I graduated, I won my first writing award. It was a copper medal shaped like an old-fashioned ink bottle with a feather pen sticking out of it. Years later, author and illustrator Julie Mammano painted a logo for me featuring that very design. I also remember that graduation for another reason. It was one of the two times I'd ever seen my father in a matching suit jacket! He always wore sport coats and leather loafers, like the dads in many of my books.

When I wasn't reading or writing, I was running, swimming, or playing basketball. Today, my only involvement with sports is as a spectator. I love ice skating and gymnastics. However, as a girl, I was quite the tomboy—until it came to football. The first time I was tackled, that was it. I was done. I am not into pain! I decided to leave football to the boys. Besides, in junior high, I was suddenly less interested in being "one of the guys," and more interested in being with one of the guys.

After graduating, my mother moved us to the Bronx and I started attending William Howard Taft High School, the setting for Bronx Masquerade. It was the '60s and I got caught up in grassroots organizing, sit-ins, and political demonstrations.

Besides all the turmoil the country was in following the assassination of JFK and Martin Luther King, Jr., my father—my best friend in all the world—died. My personal world was upside down. I was so hurt, angry, and stressed out, I thought I would explode.

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