Author Q&A with Elizabeth Acevedo

Tell us about your most recent book and how you came to write/illustrate it.

My debut novel, The Poet X, came out a month ago! I began writing the book when I was an 8th grade English Language Arts teacher in Prince George’s County, Maryland. The novel was a direct response to working in a school that was 77% Latinx and 20 % Black, but it seemed for that age range there were not enough texts that culturally represented my young people. I was inspired to write a coming-of-age story from a very specific lens: an Afro-Latina growing up in New York City discovering her voice through poetry.  I wanted a book about a girl learning to take up space.

Do you think of yourself as a diverse author/illustrator?

Both my parents are from the Dominican Republic and I was raised to be very proud of my cultural heritage. I cannot extricate my identity as a woman of Afro-Dominican descent from any of the work I create.

Who is your favorite character of all time in children’s or young adult literature?

Ooph! This is a tough question. I’m going to skirt it a bit and answer in regards to my favorite characters in recent children’s /YA literature: Jane McKeene from Dread Nation by Justina Ireland because Jane is snarky, and smart, and sensitive, and I just want to shield her and fight for her at all turns. Piddy Sanchez from Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass by Meg Medina because I bawled like a baby reading her story and just wanted to hug up on her and be her friend.

Bonus answer: To answer the original question, I’ve always had a soft spot for Esperanza Cordero from The House On Mango Street. I looked at that character and I saw myself: a brown girl from the hood who wants to be a writer. And I saw that a girl like me could win.

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What was a challenge about writing a novel-in-verse?

Seeing the holes in a plot are difficult when you are navigating the narrative through 300+ poems. There were times I didn’t feel like I could hold all of the storylines in my head, especially since the story is largely told through the main character’s interiority. I couldn’t tell if enough was happening. This balancing act of action and response took some time for me to figure out, but I think I was able to find a nice rhythm.  

Hypothetically speaking, let’s say you are forced to sell all of the books you own except for one. Which do you keep?

When My Brother Was An Aztec by Natalie Diaz. This is a slim book of poems, 70 pages, but the first time I finished this book I felt like I’d been holding my breath for years and could finally breathe. I am always finding new ways to read the poems and I would want to carry Diaz’s language with me if I couldn’t carry much else.

What does diversity mean to you as you think about your own books? What is your thought process in including or excluding characters of diverse backgrounds?

As of right now, I’m trying to write my experiences, the experiences of my people, the experiences of my students, the experiences of my cities and islands into American literature. That means I plan to write a lot of black and brown and immigrant and queer characters grappling with finding joy.  

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ELIZABETH ACEVEDO is the youngest child and only daughter of Dominican immigrants. She holds a BA in performing arts from the George Washington University and an MFA in creative writing from the University of Maryland. With more than fourteen years of performance poetry experience, Acevedo is a National Poetry Slam Champion, Cave Canem Fellow, CantoMundo Fellow, and participant in the Callaloo Creative Writing Workshop. The Poet X is her debut novel. She lives with her partner in Washington, DC. Find her online at http://www.acevedowrites.com/.

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