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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.

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This Month, Isabel Allende Is Releasing a Memoir and HBO Is Releasing a Mini-Series Based on Her Life

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This Month, Isabel Allende Is Releasing a Memoir and HBO Is Releasing a Mini-Series Based on Her Life

Photo via Getty Images

March is a busy month for Isabel Allende. The most successful Spanish-language author of all time released a new memoir, “The Soul of a Woman”, on March 2nd. On March 12th, HBO released a mini-series based on her life entitled “ISABEL: The Intimate Story of Isabel Allende”.

Both of these projects focus on the unifying themes of Isabel Allende’s life. How she has defied the patriarchy, bucked expectations, and pursued her dreams while the odds were against her.

The HBO mini-series, entitled “ISABEL: The Intimate Story of Isabel Allende”, covers a lot of ground. From Allende’s childhood in Chile, to the chaotic years of her uncle’s assassination (who happened to be Chile’s president), and her subsequent flight to Venezuela.

The series will also touch on different phases of her life. Her career as a journalist for a progressive feminist magazine. Dealing with her all-consuming grief when her daughter died in 1992. Publishing her first novel–“House of Spirits”–in 1982.

A scene from the trailer of “ISABEL” sums up the hurtles that Allende had to overcome to create a career for herself in the male-dominated world of publishing. “They are going to raise the bar because you’re a woman,” her agent tells her bluntly. “You’ll have to work twice as hard as a man in order to obtain half the prestige.”

Allende’s memoir, “The Soul of a Woman“, on the other hand, reflects on her life through a distinctly feminist lens.

Her publisher describes it as “a passionate and inspiring mediation on what it means to be a woman.” And it doesn’t appear that Allende is shying away from the label of “feminist”. One of the first sentences of her book states: “When I say that I was a feminist in kindergarten, even before the concept was known in my family, I am not exaggerating.”

Despite being 78-years-young, Allende’s beliefs–about feminism, freedom and intersectionality–are incredibly modern. Throughout her lengthy press tour, Allende has been candid about the life experiences that have shaped her beliefs–mainly how witnessing her mother’s suffering at the hands of her father contributed to her “rage against chauvinism.”

Today, Allende remains incredibly in touch with the progressive issues of the moment, like the #MeToo and Black Lives Matter movements.

“In patriarchy, we are all left out: women, poor people, Black people, people with disabilities, people with different sexual orientations,” she recently told PopSugar. “We are all left out! Because it divides us into small groups to control us.”

Above all, Allende believes that we all–especially women–should recognize that we have many of the same goals and dreams. And we’re stronger when we’re united. “Talk to each other — women alone are vulnerable, women together are invincible,” she says.

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ipstori Creator, Ruth Resendiz, Wants People To Love Reading Again

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ipstori Creator, Ruth Resendiz, Wants People To Love Reading Again

When the pandemic hit, the Mexican book market saw print sales decline within the first half of February. By April it had plummeted 88.2 percent.

For former professor, Ruth Resendiz, the Mexican publishing crisis feels personal. The brains behind ipstori, Resendiz is on a mission to get people reading again.

“It was about 15 years ago that you started to see that [students] were not reading,” she told mitú.

In 2019 Mexico Daily News reported a noticeable decrease in reading practices following a recent survey. Results concluded that nearly half of respondents didn’t have time to read, while 21.7 percent showed no interest in reading.

Featured by Apple for Women’s History Month, Resendiz wants new readers to understand the power literature can offer. “There are a lot of writers that say literature can give you a sense of immortality,” she said.

ipstori is Resendiz’s love story to reading that started at a young age.

Courtesy of Apple

Resendiz’s fascination with literature began when she was eight after contracting the measles. Bedridden for two weeks the young girl began reading “Little Women” by Louisa May Alcott.

“I knew nothing about the United States and suddenly I was immersed in another family, in another era, in another culture, and that changed my life forever,” she said.

Resendiz continued saying: “With literature, you’re allowed to be unfaithful, you’re allowed to be in a lot of people’s arms.”

Resendiz created ipstori later in life with no tech experience.

Courtesy of Apple

Becoming an entrepreneur at 52, Resendiz launched ipstori in October 2019. With no prior tech experience she was passionate about getting stories into the hands of people everywhere. Despite facing challenges as a middle-aged woman in the field, Resendiz got help from her tech savvy children turning her solo passion into a family affair.

Considered “a Spotify for literature,” the app contains fictional short stories in genres ranging from romance to thrillers. Available on the App Store, each story has a reading time of one, three, five, or seven minutes.

One of Resendiz’s main focuses with ipstori is to highlight the emotional depth of a narrative. With a generation living on smartphones, Resendiz hopes this method of engagement sparks a change of attitude.

ipstori gives readers thousands of stories to read at any time.

Courtesy of Apple

As attention spans have declined with the rise of social media, Resendiz anticipates that reading short stories would eventually allow readers to adapt to longer novels.

For me, a success story would be that someone that started with ipstori, [their] next stage is going to a library or to Kindle or buy a whole book,” she stated. “We don’t want to compete with books. We just want to give you this kind of starting ritual.”

During the pandemic, 71 percent of the Mexican population was on the internet. Thanks to the digital market, e-books and audiobooks are helping print bookstores regain sales, but not by much.

Luckily, more than 70,000 users engaged with ipstori reading ‘diversidad’ and ‘erotic’ genres that especially gained traction during the pandemic.

“When you’re surrounded by death in every sense, not just corporal death, but [the] death of a lot of things you need to control it with life,” Resendiz observes. “And what is more lively than [the] erotic?”

With over 200 authors writing for ipstori from all over Latin America, Resendiz is expanding the app’s range to include “tiny audibles” read by professional theater actors.

While the publishing crisis remains, Resendiz wants her app to “be that bridge between the creators and the possible readers.”

Reading, she says, is “the difference between being alive and just surviving.”

“We are made by stories, the stories of our parents, and the stories that we tell ourselves about ourselves,” Resendiz says.

The App Store featured ipstori for Women’s History Month.

READ: Many Native Languages Are Dying Off But Here’s How Indigenous Millennials Are Using Tech To Save Them

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