Latina writer of books for kids of all ages.

Archive for February, 2019

Read Brave Write Brave: My upcoming visit to St. Paul

This week, I’m heading back to St. Paul, Minnesota (average temperature in February is 23.7 degrees F). This time I’ll be there for a community visit that has some unexpected ties right here to Virginia, where I live.

Last year, St. Paul reached out to me with the big news that my 2016 YA novel, Burn Baby Burnhad been adopted as part of its community-wide read through a program called Read Brave.

Burn will be read as a companion novel with the Pulitzer Prize-winning bestseller Evicted: Poverty and Profit in The American City by Matthew Desmond. The book follows the harrowing experiences of eight families caught in the vicious cycle of evictions in Milwaukee, WI between 2007 and 2008. It’s a stark book, a heartbreaking one for all it tells us about people and the systemic pressures against them. It’s a must-read if you’re interested in seeing the true face of life at the very edge of housing despair.

At first I was confused. St. Paul’s tagline is “the most livable city in America,” after all. What was up? Turns out, they’re in a housing crisis like so many other American cities. With about 2.4 percent vacancy rate, it’s not really “livable” unless you have a good income.

What was especially appealing to me about the invitation to St. Paul was that the organizers of the Read Brave program were inclusive of young people as they considered this challenging topic. To make sure readers of all ages were tuned into the conversation, they’ve selected a range of titles spanning all age groups. These include: Shelter by Céline Claire; Rich by Nikki Grimes; Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate; and Yard Sale by Eve Bunting.

That, to me, seemed like one of the most respectful approaches I’ve heard. A community is made up of citizens of every age, and its problems – including housing insecurity – hurts them all. Having nowhere to live, or being a sick day away or a car repair away from being put out on the street, puts stress on families and kids, and it’s the kind of slow-burn stress that changes kids in lasting ways. It impacts their learning, their coping skills, their mental and physical health. It becomes an all-consuming problem as Nora Lopez in my novel certainly knew.

The unfortunate irony of this trip is that it also coincides with my own city’s reckoning with housing issues. I make my home to the south, in Richmond, Virginia, where we have a considerably warmer climate. Sure, you could say that things have been looking fairly rosy. The US News and World Report listed us among the top 25 places to live in this country in 2017. It’s a small city, filled with good restaurants, strong arts, and lots of beautiful natural resources.

But the truth is that we’re also a city struggling not only with the national embarrassment of our leaders’ racist and possibly criminal past behaviors, but one that is struggling with housing demons of our own.

The Richmond Times Dispatch reported last June that half of the large cities with the highest eviction rates in the nation are right here in Virginia.

Richmond has an eviction rate that is three times the national average – and one that is factually and undeniably tied to race. Our lousy tenant protection laws coupled with a lack of affordable units being built for renters only fuel the problem. For all the work of heroes like our recently deceased Lillie Estes, who labored for years on behalf of her neighbors in Gilpin Court, the work is not done.

It’s all well and good to enjoy trendy neighborhoods, fine restaurants, and notations in travel guides. I won’t begrudge anyone that. But it can’t happen by ignoring the needs of families that have been systemically afflicted. It can’t happen by leaving children in simmering trauma.

I’m eager to hear what the citizens of St. Paul have to say. A YA novel can’t solve housing problems, for sure, but it certainly can name them honestly.  I hope Burn Baby Burn gave them a place to feel seen and understood.

I’ll let you know when I’m back…

SCBWI winter conference time

I’m rushing to type this and then head to the airport for the SCBWI winter conference, where I’ll have the privilege of introducing some winners of this year’s Golden Kite and Sid Fleischman Awards.  

I’m thinking back on my own career as I get ready to take this trip. I’m considering all the ways that I learned the ropes of the publishing business and how this organization was part of that journey. No organization can provide you with everything, but my membership with SCBWI was a first important step for me. It was my declaration, I think, that I was a writer.

My first SCBWI meeting was held in a church in Arlington, VA, which boasted the most uncomfortable folding chairs in the universe. Sore back notwithstanding,  I remember looking around and feeling so excited that there were actually this many people in my region who actively had the same dreams about telling stories for kids. It felt safe to ask beginner questions: What’s a query? What does an agent do? I didn’t feel guilty or ashamed about the things I didn’t know or about the aspirations I had for the future.

Over the years, I’ve come to think of my SCBWI MidAtlantic friends as a literary family. Whenever I come to our conference, I feel as though it’s a reunion. It’s a place to learn and celebrate what’s happening for each of us and a place to give encouragement when this business has stomped us flat.

These days I sit on the national board of advisors for the organization. And, of course, I now have to keep my ear close to the ground on the many thorny issues, large and small that have rocked our community and SCBWI. I’m thinking in particular about how we serve authors from marginalized communities and how that might look going forward. Our conversations on the board are frank, sometimes difficult, but always in the spirit of trying to serve writers and our young readers better.

Keep us in your hearts, please, as we convene to celebrate this year’s winners and then as we sit down to learn with and from one another. The way forward is together, I think. It always is.

Cariños de,

Meg

It’s All a Blur: on winning the Newbery medal this week

First of all, thank you everyone for the joy you shared with me all week. Your calls, tweets, messages, emails, flowers, and presents have been so generous and loving. I don’t know how to explain the feeling of having you all behind me in this experience. Book friends, librarians, old students, my kids’ friends, teachers, former colleagues from past careers, people at the gym, our dog trainer, relatives – the list goes on. I wish my arms were big enough to throw around you all.  All I can really say is thank you for making the experience of winning the Newbery medal truly unforgettable. I hope I do you proud this year.

The world feels a little tilted right now, and there are quite a lot of tasks ahead of me, so I will leave you with a 4 minute TV interview here and with a few photos of the week.

If you’re local to Richmond and are looking for a copy, you’ll have the most luck finding Merci Suárez Changes Gears at our independent bookstores, particularly bbgb in Carytown where I plan to keep a stock of signed copies. Call them at 804 353-5675 or email info@bbgbbooks.com.

And now, off to World Read Aloud Day!