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YA Novel by Elizabeth Acevedo is About Family, Food, and Embracing Big Dreams

When you turn the pages of Elizabeth Acevedo’s books you need to do so quickly cause the fire from the passion she puts into every word heats up the pages. The Dominican writer/poet’s third book, With the Fire on High, comes out May 7 about Afro-Boricua teenager Emoni as she embarks on her senior year of high school being a single mom with a big dream.

Her YA debut, The Poet X, follows  Xiomara Batista as she discovers slam poetry and uses it as a way of express herself when she has no other outlet. The book won the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature and the Pura Belpré Award for a work that affirms the Latinx cultural experience, it quickly became a bestseller.

Acevedo began making a name for herself in the world of slam poetry, using language to paint a picture of her truths and triumphs. From “Afro-Latina,” where she dissects what this blended identity means while embracing its beauty, to “Hair” where she confronts the stigma of pelo malo and proudly exclaims “you can’t fix what was never broken.” She’s made it a point in her career to uplift the Latinx community and through her work carve a space where there aren’t many people of color telling these stories.

From the cover featuring a curly-haired Afro-Latina to Emoni’s exploration of her bi-cultural roots, With the Fire on High is a glimpse into the everyday existence of a young girl of color. Here Acevedo talks about exploring that feeling of living in-between two worlds, the bonds between women and its empowering effects, and why she wanted to address the complexities of Afro-Latinidad.

Q: The book is broken up into three parts and each part starts off with a recipe that includes casual instructions like cooking something for the duration of a music album, how did you decide which to use for each part?

@acevedowrites / Instagram

The sections and recipes were an attempt to flip common phrases “When life gives you lemons,” “Don’t Cry over Spilled Milk,” and “Breaking Bread”—Because Emoni is someone  who can’t follow a recipe to the letter I decided to remix the phrases and show how she takes what life gives her and makes the best of it based on what will work for her.

Q: Emoni is a mom but she’s also a high school senior and from the slang she uses to the pop culture references you can tell she’s a product of this day and age, how did you go about developing this character?

Emoni was one of those characters that showed up one day and began talking in my ear. I knew who she was, what music she listened to, what television shows she loved to watch, and her relationship with her family. I wanted her to feel fresh and current but also timeless.

Q: Emoni’s mixed ethnic background comes into play during an interaction where she’s faced with some ignorant remarks and she’s quick to educate those who say someone of a certain race or ethnicity should look a certain way, being that there is so much more awareness of Afro-Latinidad but still so much ignorance involved, why was this an important interaction to include for you?

I think it’s important to use fiction to speak to the current climate and I wanted to address the complexity behind Afro-Latinidad and the ways that manifests within my main character, Emoni; there are so many assumptions people make about her that aren’t based in fact but are a myth of their own making.  Emoni is a character that contemplates colorism, blackness, afro-latinidad and all that those pieces of her identity bring in ways I hope are nuanced.

Q: The romance between Emoni and Malachi touches on serious topics including the loss of a loved one and sex, how did you decide to develop their relationship and the character of Malachi?

I wanted Malachi to be a sweet love interest; a departure from the ways that black boys are often depicted in fictions. He’s kind, he’s smart, he loves his community and he cares about Emoni. He also has had his own share of violence and heartbreak and struggles with never really having a place to heal some of those wounds.  It was important for me to show a relationship that had clear boundaries and open conversation. I wish when I was a teen I had seen more examples of what young women could ask of their partners.  

Q: From her relationship with her abuela to her daughter to her best friend, the power of female relationships is evident throughout the book, can you talk more about that and what inspired you to create such strong female characters?

This book really is about the community of women that it takes to raise a child. I wanted to show the strong fem bonds that support us, free us, and launch us forward. Emoni cannot always see herself and her talents clearly but the women around her believe in her even when she doesn’t.

You take on serious topics including the loss of a loved one, street violence, economic burdens, colonialism, privilege, and race, what was the writing process like balancing such heavy content with the more light-hearted moments?

@acevedowrites / Instagram

I had to work really hard to make sure that I didn’t only depict moments of hardship and grief; even when we as real people are going through difficult moments we still laugh, and love, and hang out with our homegirls, and eat good meals with our families; I wanted my characters to be afforded this same bandwidth of humanity.  

Q: While her father’s love for Puerto Rico plays an important role in the story, Emoni also shows a love for her hometown of Philadelphia and sometimes struggles with her dual backgrounds in ways like not speaking Spanish well or not knowing as much about her African American roots and for young people of color this is very much a part of their reality. What was the inspiration behind you including this feeling like you live in between two worlds?

 I’m really into exploring what it means to be raised in an overlap of culture, ethnicities, expectations, etc. Emoni offered me an opportunity to dive into some of those dynamics. Especially teens I think feel stuck in the middle: they are not quite adults, but they also aren’t fully children either.  There’s a lot of fodder for literature in looking at the in between-ness that people occupy.

Q: You repeatedly make it a point to show how Emoni’s emotions come through in her food which is, of course, reminiscent of the classic Like Water for Chocolate, how did this book play a role in developing With the Fire on High and were there any other writers or stories that inspired you as you wrote this book?

I was definitely channeling Laura Esquivel when I wrote With the Fire on High, and also the author Sarah Addison Allen. They both write fiction that centers women and use food and magical realism as a way to show how the strengths and passions of their characters. I took what I loved about their books and brought it to a hood in Philadelphia and to a character with big dreams and talents she doesn’t know how to channel.

Q: As a prominent and award-winning writer and Dominicana, it’s clear from your works that you aim to uplift the voices of POC and highlight that experience, how much of it is inspired by your life and what other sources do you use for inspiration? 

@acevedowrites / Instagram

I definitely walk through the world with a sensitivity as to what would make an interesting story, or a personality quirk I might want to give to a character, or a with a watchful eye of a setting I think is unusual. So, consciously and subconsciously I am mindful of storytelling; many of my writings are inspired by people I know, students I’ve worked with, memories I have from my own childhood, and current events I see on the news.

Q: What would you like readers to take away from this book?

That young people of color deserve stories where they triumph, where they follow their dreams, where live and love and are allowed to be kids. They deserve to see themselves as chefs, and doctors, and artists and all their other wild imaginings.

White Students Burned A Book After A Latina Called Them Privileged, Not Realizing That Burning Books Is A Privilege

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White Students Burned A Book After A Latina Called Them Privileged, Not Realizing That Burning Books Is A Privilege

lina Kapyro / EyeEm / getty images

Truth hurts, white privilege exists and it’s beyond toxic. Students at a predominantly white university in Georgia took umbrage with this truth however when a Latina author delivered a lecture at their school about the issue. In protest of the notion that they were privileged, several students who had attended the lecture committed one of the most privileged acts of all time and burned her book.

Jennine Capó Crucet spoke at Georgia Southern University on Wednesday night about her book “Make Your Home Among Strangers.”

Her novel is a fictional piece about a young Latina from a lower-middle-class family living in Miami. The book follows her journey as she attends school at a prestigious college in New York state and struggles to keep up both socially and academically in the new “predominantly white” school setting. According to Georgia Southern University, the book was required reading for some of its First-Year Experience classes.

After speaking about the book at Georgia Southern University’s Performing Arts Center on Wednesday she opened up her lecture to audience questions.

According to GSU’s school newspaper the George-Anne, the question and answer section of the lecture quickly turned into a rush of questions about her criticisms of white people.

“I noticed that you made a lot of generalizations about the majority of white people being privileged,” one student said to Capó Crucet, according to the school paper. “What makes you believe that it’s okay to come to a college campus, like this, when we are supposed to be promoting diversity on this campus, which is what we’re taught. I don’t understand what the purpose of this was.”

In response, Capó Crucet explained that she had been invited to the university to speak about white privilege “It’s a real thing that you are actually benefiting from right now in even asking this question,” she reportedly replied.

It didn’t take long for her response to spur more questions about race and white privilege from students present. According to Buzzfeed News, students became upset when the author asserted that most white people “needed to be removed from authority positions because two-thirds of people in high positions should not be white.”

That evening a group of students organized a burning of her book on campus.

According to reports, some students also gathered outside of the hotel that she had been staying at.

“Last night’s discussion with the author devolved into accusations of her demonstrating racism against white people. Some students burned copies of Crucet’s book and even gathered outside her hotel. We assert that destructive and threatening acts do not reflect the values of Georgia Southern University,” Dr. Russell Willerton, the department chair, said in a statement.

In response to the burning, Capó Crucet tweeted “This is where we are, America.”

In response to the book-burning incident that took place on their campus, the university’s vice president for Strategic Communications and Marketing John Lester said the school is “not planning any actions against any of the students involved in this incident… While it’s within the students’ First Amendment rights, book burning does not align with Georgia Southern’s values nor does it encourage the civil discourse and debate of ideas.”

Truth is that whatever you think of white privilege and the contents of this author’s book is never really a good look.

READ: A Viciously Racist Video Has Gone Viral In Which Two Girls Call For The Return Of Slavery And The KKK

Lupita Nyong’o Wrote A Children’s Book About The Prejudice In Favor Of Lighter Skin Color And It’s Out This Month

Entertainment

Lupita Nyong’o Wrote A Children’s Book About The Prejudice In Favor Of Lighter Skin Color And It’s Out This Month

“Black Panther” and “Us” star Lupita Nyong’o keeps wowing audiences and critics with every performance. She stunned the whole world with her interpretation of Patsey in “Twelve Years a Slave” which earned her an Oscar—making her the first African woman to ever win an Academy Award for acting. Her performance in “Us” made us all shift in our seats watching her amazing portrayal of “Red” the creepy anti-hero of the film. 

She speaks four languages, has a graduate degree from Yale, won an Academy Award for her debut performance, has covered fashion magazines and newspapers around the world and has every film critic in her pocket, what else could she possibly do next? 

Write a book. 

The Kenyan-Mexican actress is debuting her first book this month.

credit Instagram @lupitanyongo

Inspired by the lack of diversity in the books she read growing up, the actress turned author, decided to do her part by creating a children’s book that tackles colorism and representation. “Sulwe” which means “star” in Luo, Lupita’s native language, is a children’s picture book that’s all about a girl whose skin is “the color of midnight”, who is “darker than everyone in her family”, according to its official synopsis by publishing house Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, and is described by the publisher as “a powerful, moving picture book about colorism, self-esteem and learning that true beauty comes from within.”

Nyong’o first announced the news of the book on her Instagram page back in January. 

“Sulwe is a dark-skinned girl who goes on a starry-eyed adventure and awakens with a reimagined sense of beauty. She encounters lessons that we learn as children and spend our lives unlearning. This is a story for little ones, but no matter the age I hope it serves as an inspiration for everyone to walk with joy in their own skin.” The Kenyan-Mexican actress told Marie Claire that she hopes Sulwe will offer inspiration to young readers, saying, “In no way do I imagine a child will read this and never have a problem with the world discriminating against their skin or themselves discriminating again their skin. But at least you have a foundation. You have something that reminds you that you are enough.”

The book is illustrated by artist, filmmaker and bestselling author Vashti Harrison, a fervent activist for racial equality herself.

credit www.vasthiharrison.com

The book is illustrated by Vashti Harrison, the author and illustrator of New York Times bestselling book “Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History”. Nyong’o said in a statement that she’s loved having Harrison on board, “Sulwe is a character near and dear to my heart, and seeing her brought to life through Vashti’s illustrations is thrilling.” Vashti, an artist, slash filmmaker, slash author, revealed that she wanted the art for “Sulwe” to be eye-catching, magical and whimsical, “The story has an incredibly moving and powerful message, while at the same time shares a fun and whimsical adventure. I wanted to infuse every page with as much elegance and thoughtfulness, as much magic and wonder, so readers would want to come back again and again.”

credit Instagram @lupitanyongo

The 48-page book is aimed at children as young as four, through to the age of eight. Executive Editor at “Sulwe”‘s publishing house Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, said in an interview: “Lupita is outspoken on the issue of colorism, and gave a moving speech about the subject at the Essence Awards in 2014. Colorism is the theme that she’s chosen to expand on for her first picture book. In Sulwe, Lupita Nyong’o shines a light on the prejudices of skin color honestly and unflinchingly but in a way that is also accessible for even the youngest readers. Sulwe introduces an unforgettable character whose journey in the night sky is magical, empowering, and full of whimsy. This story is a beautiful celebration of learning where your strengths lie and discovering the beauty within that kids from all backgrounds can relate to. The story takes place in Kenya, a country not often represented in picture books, and the culture and setting are integral to the story.”

This week, Lupita took to Twitter to share some thoughts on the importance that representation has on young black children like her, when she was growing up.

credit Twitter @lupita_nyongo

On a lengthy post on Twitter, Lupita Nyong’o shared that the book is a love letter to her younger self and to black children around the world. She wrote about how growing up, she never saw girls and women like her represented in the books she read. She went on to say how she was given a glimpse, “a window”  into the lives of people who looked nothing like her, and how that made her yearn for a black role model, “I didn’t have any mirrors”, “mirrors help us develop our sense of self”.

“Colourism, society’s preference for lighter skin is alive and well. It is not just a prejudice reserved for places with a largely white population. Throughout the world, even in Kenya, even today, there is a popular sentiment that lighter is brighter.” “Sulwe” is released online and in bookstores everywhere October 15.