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

www.acevedowrites.com

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.

Best Selling Author Elizabeth Acevedo’s Book ‘With The Fire On High’ Is Going To Be Turned Into a Movie

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Best Selling Author Elizabeth Acevedo’s Book ‘With The Fire On High’ Is Going To Be Turned Into a Movie

Astrid Stawiarz / Getty Images

Lately, Afro-Dominican author and poet Elizabeth Acevedo has gotten a lot of well-deserved praise for the incredible writings she has contributed to the literary world. Back in June of 2019, Acevedo’s “Poet X” won the prestigious Carnegie Medal — making her the first writer of color to ever receive the honor. The writer also released her second book, “With The Fire On High,” to esteemed reviews back in May of the same year. 

Now, the Latina creator is getting another honor to add to her distinguished resume. 

Her book, “With The Fire On High,” has been picked up by a production company with plans to develop it into a movie. 

Twitter / @AcevedoWrites

It was announced on Monday, August 5th that the production company, Picturestart, acquired the rights to the New York Times bestselling novel and will produce a film that Acevedo will adapt for the big screen. Picturestart was launched earlier this year by Former Lionsgate Motion Picture Group co-president Erik Feig. This adaptation will be one of the production company’s first. Feig and Executive Vice-President of Picturestart, Lucy Kitada, are set to produce the film for the company. As of now, there is no date or time frame for the film in these early stages of its development.  

“With The Fire On High” tells the story of protagonist Emoni Santiago. The 17-year-old Philadelphian works through the challenges of becoming a single mother during her freshman year of high school. Despite many hardships, Santiago finds that the one place she can still feel free is the kitchen. The magic, love, and kindness she puts into her dishes make both her and everyone who tastes them happy. However, as much she likes to cook, Santiago feels its an impossible dream to pursue so she is conflicted about pursuing it. Still, she can’t help the way she feels when she turns up the heat and creates something new. 

On Twitter, fans and colleagues alike celebrated Acevedo’s newest project. 

Twitter / @YesikaStarr

Fellow Latina writer, Yesika Salgado, took to Twitter to congratulate Acevedo. As the Salvadorean says in her tweet, the “With The Fire On High” author really seems to be on a winning streak lately. We’re glad to see her getting all the accolades she deserves. 

As this tweet points out, Acevedo’s news is very needed after this weekend’s tragedies. 

Twitter / @GlamBelle9

After a weekend filled with so much pain, the Latinidad is in desperate need of some happy news so this announcement comes as a beautiful win for all of us. Acevedo was raised by immigrant parents from the Dominican Republic. To see her succeed in the ways that she has is both inspirational and so gratifying for our Latinx and immigrant communities.

Some supporters expressed their excitement to see Acevedo’s characters on the big screen. 

Twitter / @juliaerin80

This new film deal means that we will see Emoni and all of the book’s other characters brought to life. Seeing more films with protagonists of color not only opens more roles up to Black and brown actors, but it also provides an opportunity to see ourselves and our community is reflected by Hollywood. 

Most of all, Acevedo’s fans and supporters were just really excited for the Latina writer. 

Twitter / @IAmKingBey

Acevedo’s announcement was full of reactions from friends, fans, and supporters and they all echoed the same excitement and happiness for the author. GIFs and reaction images expressed just how proud they are to hear the Dominicana’s news. Her mentions were basically a big celebration. 

We’re very happy for Acevedo and can’t wait to see her book come to life. It’s another example of what can be accomplished with Latina excellence. 

Latin America Has Its Own Amazing Comic Book Tradition And These Iconic Titles Prove It

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Latin America Has Its Own Amazing Comic Book Tradition And These Iconic Titles Prove It

mexicoretro / valenzrc / Instagram

Even though Marvel and DC Comics superhero comics are obviously very popular in Latin America (as they are in the rest of the world), the region has developed its own comic book industry. This industry has given birth to iconic characters. These characters and stories speak directly to Latin American reality and identity. They deal with challenges such as economic crisis, class division, racism, and State repression. Of course, they do this in an often funny way. Other comics have achieved cult status even if their quality is, well, not of the highest standards. These are ten titles that speak of the depth and breathe of Latin American creativity. 

Title: Condorito
Country of origin: Chile
So when was it first published? It has been published since 1949
Created by: René Ríos, known as Pepo

Credit: condoritooficial / Instagram

The adventures of a Chilean condor that lives among humans is told in short vignettes that always end with a character passing out and the iconic word PLOP. Simple stories deal, however, with issues such as unemployment, the military dictatorship in Chile and class division. Condorito is a working-class everyman who faces class discrimination. Before Pinochet took power the comic was a bit conservative, mocking hippies and left-wing politicians, but after the coup, it changed and silently denounced the dictatorship. A 3D animated movie was released in 2017, with iconic characters such as Cabeza de Huevo, Garganta de Lata and Pepe Cortisona. 

Title: La familia Burrón
Country of origin: Mexico
So when was it first published? 1948
Created by: Gabriel Vargas

Credit: peltre.cuina.mexicana / Instagram

It was published for 60 years and told half a million copies, a huge number by Mexican publishing standards. Cuevas got into the hearts and minds of a lower-class Mexico City family. It is a linguistic jewel: it used slang, Prehispanic words and invented words that appealed to the creativity of chilango vernacular. Vargas’s main influence was American comics, but he soon developed a style that was unique and influences generations of Latin American comic book artists. 

And this family is a true icon of Mexico City

Credit: yosoymims / Instagram

Up until today, this family is venerated by Mexicans. There are multiple murals, toys and museum exhibitions dedicated to the Burrones. A true representation of 20th century Mexican idiosyncrasy. 

Title: Las aventuras de Capulina
Country of origin: Mexico
So when was it first published? 1970s
Created by: Oscar González Guerrero on a character created by Gaspar Henaine Pérez

Comic books in the U.S. are an internationally known community of superheroes but Latin America boasts its own impressive rooster of comic superheroes.
Credit: mexicoretro / Instagram

Gaspar Henaine Pérez, better known as Capulina, was a comedian that became iconic on the 1970s and 1980s. He had a television show and a very successful duo with Marco Antonio Campos, better known as Viruta. The character of Capulina gained huge popularity in a comic book series with stories by comic artist Oscar González Guerrero and art by his son Oscar Gonzalez Loyo. 

Title: El libro vaquero
Country of origin: Mexico
So when was it first published? 1978
Created by: Mario de la Torre Barrón, c

Credit: 99.hawells / Instagram

A classic of Mexican kitsch! NSFW content that has plenty of blood and plenty of sex. It was considered mass entertainment for the lower classes but is now being reinterpreted as an important cultural icon that deals with gender, sex and national identity. As the title suggests, it all happens in a microcosm of cowboys and saloons. This comic book has enrolled some famous writers, such as Jordi Soler, to write stories, as it is now a cultural icon, popular among hipsters. 

Title: Memín Pinguín (yes, this one is quite problematic)
Country of origin: Mexico
So when was it first published? 1962-2010
Created by: Yolanda Vargas Dulché

Credit: miguelf039 / Instagram

First things first: this is a very controversial title because of how the Afro-Mexican main character is drawn, and because of the ways in which other characters refer to him. There are plenty of stereotypes here, but also a denouncement of racism. The class division in Mexico is also referred to when a rich student is enrolled in a public school and faces the wrath of the proletariat. An interesting object of study that makes us think of how representations of race that might have been seen as innocent at the time gain new dimensions as the effects of stereotypes are better understood. 

Title: Kaliman
Country of origin: Mexico
So when was it first published? 1965 (previously a radio show from 1963)
Created by: Modesto Vázquez González (radio show), Hector González Dueñas (Víctor Fox) y Clemente Uribe Ugarte (comic book)

Credit: valenzrc / Instagram

During the 1960s Mexico was a cultural powerhouse in the continent and Kaliman is good proof of this. The superhero was originally just a voice on the radio, but then became a comic book that was published for 26 uninterrupted years, which spanned 1351 issues. Kaliman is a superhero of unknown origin who was raised in India and fights alongside an Egyptian kid named Solin. Kaliman practices multiple martial arts and goes to mystical places like Tibet! A true transnational creation generated in Latin America

Title: Mafalda (but of course we couldn’t possibly forget her!)
Country of origin: Argentina
So when was it first published? 1964-1973
Created by: Quino

Credit: Giphy

More of a comic strip rather than a comic book, Mafalda is a young girl who hates soup, loves her family and despairs at the state of the world. Argentina’s answer to Charlie Brown and the Peanuts series is a funny, nostalgic and thought-provoking universe in which childhood’s point of view reveals the idiocy of the adult world. Mafalda is a symbol of pacifism and a true icon of Argentina. 

Title: Love and Rockets
Country of origin: United States
So when was it first published? 1981
Created by:the Hernandez brothers: Gilbert, Jaime, and Mario.

Credit: Love and Rockets / Fantagraphics Books

Perhaps the most daring and iconic comic book to come out of the Latino community in the United States. This universe of interrelated storylines have traits that make it uniquely Latino: some stories take place in the Central American fictional village of Palomar, while others have magical realism elements. The Locas series focuses on Maggie and Hopey, one of the first queer couples in the American comic book tradition. 

Title: Turey El Taíno
Country of origin: Puerto Rico
So when was it first published? 1989
Created by: Ricardo Álvarez-Rivón

Credit: n-14515802384n8gk. Digital image. Ilustra.org

A unique comic book in that it shows how an indigenous community, the Tainos of what is now Puerto Rico, lived before colonization by the Spanish. It shows the cultural richness of the island in pre-Columbus days and brings back indigenous words and tools. A real standout! 

Title: Elpidio Valdés
Country of origin: Cuba
So when was it first published? 1970
Created by: Juan Padrón

Credit: elpidio4(1). Digital image. Cuba Literaria

A true Cuban classic and perhaps the most famous comic book to come out of the island. In a truly nationalistic spirit (some might argue that these comic books are in fact propaganda), the story takes place in the nineteenth-century war of independence that Cubans waged against Spain. Elpidio Valdés is a multiplatform narrative, as there are movies and cartoons about this historical character.

READ: ‘La Borinqueña’ Is The Afro-Latina Superhero The Comic Book World Has Been Missing

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