fierce

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

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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?

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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.

This Author Is Writing Children’s Books For Central American Kids Explaining Deportations

Culture

This Author Is Writing Children’s Books For Central American Kids Explaining Deportations

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Randy Jurado Ertll has been writing novels and children’s books for well over a decade, all with the mission to inspire his fellow Central Americans about the possibilities that abound for them in the U.S., and in the fields of public service and politics.

The author of multiple books and novels, including children’s illustrated book, “The Adventures of El Cipitio,” Randy Jurado Ertll has used literature as a means to help others stay woke.

Credit: randyertll / Instagram

“It’s important for us to be seen and heard through books that are bilingual. My goal is to make my literature accepted and to be recognized and valued because we haven’t been valued as a whole, a community,” Jurado Ertll says in an exclusive interview with mitú.  

Born in Los Angeles to a Salvadoran mother in the 1970s, Jurado Ertll is a product of what can be accomplished with absolute grit and determination, despite being part of a group that has been on the margins of society—the children of deported immigrants.

When he was just eight months old, his mother was deported back to El Salvador and Jurado Ertll went to live with her until the age of five.

“People think it only happens under Trump, but it’s been happening forever but people forget,” Jurado Ertll says about deportations.

After his mom’s deportation, he tried making the most of living in a foreign land and soaked up as much as he could about the culture.

Credit: randyertll / Instagram

“That helped me and gave me an opportunity to learn first—hand the history and culture [of El Salvador]. It shaped my world view,” Jurado Ertll says.

Once he returned home for elementary school, he had to completely relearn the English language and says it was “kind of like a rebirth experience.”

He grew up in South Central Los Angeles during a time when there were few Latinos in his neighborhood. He was a student of the Los Angeles Unified School District until he was accepted into a program to study at a high school in Minnesota.

After high school, he returned to California to study at Occidental College and obtained his master’s degree from Azusa Pacific University. He then went on to be a communications director in Washington, D.C. for a congressional member and also wrote numerous opinion columns for newspapers across the country including the Los Angeles Times and USA Today.

Jurado Ertll published his first book in 2009.

Credit: randyertll / Instagram

His titles include “Hope in Times of Darkness” about his experience as a Salvadoran American, and a novel with surreal elements about a three-foot mythical creature titled “The Lives and Times of El Cipitio.”

“The Lives and Times of El Cipitio” is a surreal novel, I wanted to use lots of symbolism,” Jurado Ertll says. “I wanted to create an anti-hero that is evil but becomes good, a gangster that runs for mayor of LA then president, and the novel talks about how he evolves.”

When demand for his books increased, Jurado Ertll knew it was time to start bilingual books to inspire readers.

Credit: randyertll / Instagram

He then created “The Adventures of El Cipitio.”

“The Adventures of El Cipitio” is more of a feel-good, illustrated book.

Credit: randyertll / Instagram

“Kids need to feel good and proud, and see themselves in words and illustrations they can see themselves in,” he says.

Although Jurado Ertll has written several books to put the stories of more Central Americans like him to diversify bookshelves and tell the stories of all types of Latinos, one story he hasn’t quite written about in depth is his own deportation story.

“[The] story hasn’t been explored or told as much because it’s traumatizing—it distorts your sense of safety and belonging, and you can make it positive or negative,” Jurado Ertll says.

“It made me into a resilient person. There are other kids who have suffered more than I have. I wanted to empower people. If you born here, you can come back [after being deported.] Lots of people do that, but their stories are not told,” he continues.

Jurado Ertll has certainly chosen to take his experiences and make it a positive one.

Credit: randyertll / Instagram

Jurtado Ertll’s books are sold in Costco and Amazon, and he also continues to present his books at book fairs and events across the country.

READ: Elizabeth Acevedo Has Been Awarded The Carnegie Medal — The First Time A Writer Of Color Has Won In The Award’s History

Capitol Hill Just Congratulated YA Writer Elizabeth Acevedo For Her Accomplishments And Contributions To Latinidad

Entertainment

Capitol Hill Just Congratulated YA Writer Elizabeth Acevedo For Her Accomplishments And Contributions To Latinidad

Avecedowrites.com \ http://www.acevedowrites.com/news

As the literary world becomes more inclusive, we are hearing from fresh voices who are sharing experiences that marginalized people have long endured but have never seen represented before. If this year’s Carnegie Medal winner is any indication, these voices are finally being celebrated by the literary world for the power they speak.

The 2019 Carnegie Medal has been awarded to Dominican-American slam poet Elizabeth Acevedo.

This is the first time in the prestigious award’s 83 years that a writer of color has been the honoree.

Twitter / @nationalbook

The UK’s Carnegie Medal is an esteemed award for works of children’s and young adult’s literature. It was founded in 1936 and named after Scottish-American businessman, Andrew Carnegie. Carnegie was responsible for founding over 2,800 libraries in the English-speaking world.

Acevedo was awarded the Carnegie Medal at the June 18, 2019 ceremony for her debut novel, “The Poet X.” The book utilizes Acevedo’s poetry skills as she tells the story of shy 15-year-old Xiomara. In the book, the young Dominicana joins a slam poetry club at her school. As a result, Xiomara gradually opens up to the world and shares her own powerful voice.

Chosen by a panel of a dozen of children’s librarians, Acevedo and her “Poet X” received high praise by judges.

Twitter / @midashahab

Judges of this year’s awards called “The Poet X” “a searing, unflinching exploration of culture, family, and faith within a truly innovative verse structure.” They add that the book’s protagonist “comes to life on every page and shows the reader how girls and women can learn to inhabit, and love, their own skin.”

This is a sentiment echoed by the other accolades “The Poet X” has been awarded since its publication. At the 2019 Youth Media Awards, the book won the Michael Printz Award for best young adult literature. Additionally, “The Poet X” won the Pura Belpré award. This prize honors the Latina writer who best portrayed the Latinx experience for children in their work each year.

It’s that concept in particular that encouraged Avecedo to write “The Poet X.”

Twitter / @Wardle_Academy

Before she was a writer, Avecedo was an 8th-grade school teacher in Maryland. It was while teaching that one of her students gave her the desire to write. The student kept rejecting the books Avecedo suggested she read. According to the writer, the girl said she couldn’t read any of them because “none of these books are about us.”

Consequently, this drove Avecedo to write a story that reflects the sights, sounds, and people of her neighborhood. In doing so, she succeeds in creating a book that gives a voice to “all the little sisters yearning to see themselves” — just as she hoped in the book’s dedication. Undoubtedly, it is this sort of literature — the kind that validates depreciated identities — that we need to see so much more of.

Once news of Avecedo’s win reached the Internet, Twitter came alive with congratulations for the Dominicana.

Twitter/ @lilaybean

This Twitter user pointed out that seeing Avecedo win inspires a huge sense of pride for the Dominican Republic and the Latinidad. Since we all win when one of us wins, it almost feels as if a prima or amiga is being honored.

Avecedo was even congratulated on Capital Hill for her history-making win.

Twitter / @RepEspaillat

New York Representative Adriano Espaillat applauded the writer for her win as well as for her role as a teacher. As Rep. Espaillat explained, Avecedo saw a need for diversity in her school’s English curriculum and she created the change herself. The world would be a more beautiful place if more of us also created the change we need.

Some well-wishers simply expressed how much they love Avecedo’s literary voice.

Twitter / @itsjustkate4

This Twitter user joked that Avecedo is such a good writer, that she’d even listen to her read appliance manuals. Between “The Poet X” and her second novel, “The Fire On High,” we’re total fans of Avecedo so we can relate.

This win will forever be a part of history and — as such — so will this Dominicana’s voice. Here’s to Avecedo’s victory, breaking barriers and making the world into what we need it to be.

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