I’m back from Philly where I stayed at the lovely Four Seasons Hotel, a guest of the Free LIbrary of Philadelphia. The hotel is every bit as cushy as you’d expect. Chandeliers, thick rugs, polite people at every, single turn. The staff even made me a beautiful candy version of the book cover for The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind – which was both astoundingly lovely and funny. I was there to speak about Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass, after all. Hmmm. I would have LOVED to have been a fly on the wall when the dessert guru had to decide what to do.
Anyway, I spent the day as part of library’s well-regarded Field Family Teen Author Series, an endowed program that brings authors and books to students at no cost to their school. (Attention People of Means and Nice Shoes! Consider doing this in your community, too!)
The high school students in my groups were amazing. A sampling: Students with visual impairments who heard the audio version of Yaqui. Young people who were in a GED program and trying to get themselves back on track. A charter school that is over 90% Latino – and their teacher who is an aspiring author, too.
We met at a branch in the Kensington area – decidedly NOT the Four Seasons ambiance. But it’s a dead ringer for the Queens that I knew growing up, right down to the trains running overhead the way they do in Corona, Jackson Heights, Jamaica and lots of other Queens neighborhoods. Kensington is fighting crime and serious decay with the help of organizations like Impact Services Corporation which helped make a playground, organized more police protection, and hosted a Halloween celebration for the families just last week. (The fake cobwebs were still clinging to the ceiling.) It’s always an inspiration to see people reclaim their own neighborhoods, especially when they keep young people at the front of their thinking. It’s all the better when those efforts use the literary arts in their arsenal, too.
Any author will tell you that traveling can be exciting, but it can be hard, too (fancy hotel rooms notwithstanding). We’re away from our own families, and sometimes we get weary of presenting the same material. But for me it’s also true that all of that disappears when you are in the room with kids who are reading your book. Teens ask you hard questions: Was it weird to write the sex scenes? Do you think of this as a confessional book? Did the real Yaqui ever kick your ass? What advice can you give us?
I’m never sure what’s coming my way except that we usually get to talk about hard decisions and boundaries of all kinds. Most gratifying of all, though, I get to hear kids say powerful things about books and identity, things that leave me breathless and humbled.
“It was so cool to see a Dominican like me as a main character. Thank you for that.”
“Thank God you mentioned Vicks VapoRub. My mother rubs that all over me when I’m sick. Nobody else understands.”
“I could picture everything you said. It’s just like this in my house.”
And there you have it: the thing that’s most important about writing in celebration of all kinds of kids and families. It provides young people with their own story. It gives them relief from stereotype. It offers them the message that they matter and that their tale should be captured.
So, I’ll close with this: A lot of you know that the We Need Diverse Campaign is in the last leg of raising money on IndiGogo. (This morning we were a little over 80K on our way to $100K.) I donated early, and I have volunteered to be their mouthpiece wherever I go. The executive team, lead by Ellen Oh, is an amazing group of people who feel this mission in their bones. They are working hard to make our school and public libraries places where all kids can see themselves in a book.
You can donate a buck if that’s what you’ve got, or you can reach deep and donate in return for amazing perks that have been provided by some of the country’s most talented writers, illustrators, editors, and agents. Please consider helping.
Thanks. Until next week…when I’m in Austin Texas…
Meg’s next appearance: YA Lit Symposium, Austin, Texas.Nov 14 – 16, 2015