On April 28, I’ll be hosting a twitter chat for Las Musas, the fantastic people who brought us the first Latinx Children’s Book Festival in 2020.
I’m so impressed with this group that I thought we should take a little dive into their backstory and see what they have planned to make the publishing landscape more equitable – including a mentorship program that is accepting applications this month.
Established in 2018 as a Latinx collective of women and non-binary (identifying on the female spectrum) authors, their mission is to “spotlight the contribution of their work in the evolving canon of children’s literature and to celebrate the diversity of voice, experience, and power in our communities.”
Sounds immense, right? But I think they’re moving the needle – and in a way that taps the talents we have in the community.
So, I present, Las Musas…
Las Musas kicked off on August 28, 2018 with 12 members (J.C. Cervantes, Tami Charles, Mia García, Isabel Ibañez, Michelle Ruiz Keil, Tehloy Kay Mejia, Yamile Saied Méndez, Nina Moreno, Claribel Ortega, Emma Otheguy, Laura Pohl, and Aida Salazar) and have now grown to over 70 members encompassing Musas Debuts, Madrinas, and Hermanas.
Back in 2018, Aida Salazar was approached by a couple of debut marketing groups in kidlit when her debut book (The Moon Within) was announced. However, what she noticed is that the majority of the authors in those groups came from communities that have been historically privileged in publishing. She felt there was more of a need to help market diverse books by diverse creators. She had a background in organizing collectives in BIPOC communities and so it was a natural process to build something by and for BIPOC. At the time, the few debuts she knew and reached out to happened to all be Latina. It was the group’s decision to keep it Latina/Latinx and then to include non-binary folks comfortable identifying on the female spectrum.
We specifically chose a collective because we wanted no one person in charge. Collectives by nature are non-hierarchical and therefore non-patriarchal, which supports our vision to uplift Latinx voices.
Aida Salazar came up with several names for the group and this was the name voted as the top choice unanimously. Understandably so, the muse is a powerful force with which many creatives connect. To call ourselves Las Musas is a way to honor the muse within us that makes our work possible but also, it holds out hope that what we bring into the world will inspire others.
We decided to make this a woman or woman identified collective because many of us had faced discrimination and inequality even within Latinx spaces. In publishing, the pay disparity, the seats at the table, the voices most uplifted have been traditionally male. We wanted to change that, and we didn’t want to be pitted against one another. We wanted to assert to publishing, to readers, and to ourselves that there was, in fact, room for all of us. In the end, we are stronger together.
The hardest obstacle is always time. As you noted we do everything by volunteers. Musas record the podcasts, write the blog posts, share news on social media, and more. On top of that they work on their novels, picture books, etc!
This is also why with any new prospective members we try and make sure to make it clear that all that wonderful stuff we’re doing takes work from Musas themselves. Joining us means contributing to this work, and it’s not a balance everyone can take on.
The most rewarding, of course, is this community. This is such a wonderful and supportive collective of writers and illustrators doing amazing and innovative work! It has been a pleasure seeing and supporting what this collective has accomplished, and to think we’ve only been around since 2018.
Talk about supporting marginalized voices within marginalized communities. We were once asked why there weren’t more Afro-Latinx or Asian-Latinx authors in Las Musas and the main answer (aside from getting the word out and many people we approached simply didn’t have the time) was they weren’t being published. When seeking out Latinx creators, publishing has to address their lack of focus on Afro-Latinx voices, Indigenous-Latinx voices, Asian Latinx voices and of course, the intersections with the LGBTQIA+ community and the disability community.
We started the Hermanas Mentorship Program for this reason. How could we as individual authors and illustrators make a difference in helping un-published authors/illustrators get their foot in the door, especially when many of us were debuting ourselves? Anna Meriano suggested a mentorship program and under the stewardship of Mia García, it’s grown ever since. Our next round is closes on May 1st!
Yes! First off, we are a group of traditionally published authors and illustrators working in kidlit (in the US market!) which means picture books, chapter books, middle grade, and young adult.
Our primary branch of the Las Musas collective is the Musas Debut group. Debut is a bit of a misnomer as they also include authors with sophomore books coming out because many of us still felt like newcomers or debuts in publishing, even with an upcoming second book.
Madrinas is another branch of our growing tree. Madrinas are established Latinx kidlit authors and illustrators (with two or more books) who provide advice, collaboration, camaraderie, and more. Madrinas work within our 6-month mentorship program to provide mentorship opportunities to Hermanas and/or our debuts.
Las Hermanas is a selection-based mentorship program for traditionally unpublished Latinx kidlit writers and illustrators. It will connect unpublished writers with current Musas and Madrinas for a 6-month mentorship program where they can focus on a specific project, get querying help, etc.
Both the Madrinas and Hermanas branches were created in 2019 and you can see how they are very much connected and a natural evolution of Las Musas. If you want to learn about how to join our group check out our FAQ here.
Readers and others can support our work by buying or borrowing our work, sharing how much you love it to your family and friends and on social media but also, by attending our launches, our Twitter chats, webinars, podcasts, and the festival. Musas are also available for school and book club visits so don’t hesitate to reach out!!
Yes! Again, a reminder that the next round of applications for the Hermanas mentorship is almost closed, but you still have time to apply before the deadline on May 1, 2021.
We also have some wonderful releases coming out in April from Musas: Laekan Zea Kemp’s YA debut Somewhere Between Bitter and Sweet, and NoNieqa Ramos’s picture book debut Your Mama. In May, we have Olivia Abtahi’s YA debut Perfectly Parvin. You should also check out all the amazing 2021 releases available to order or pre-order and those Musas that debuted in 2020.
On our website you can join our monthly email newsletter and get a run-down of how Las Musas are making an impact in the press, awards, and on readers.
It was actually the 2020 debuts that kicked off the Latinx KidLit Book Festival – under the leadership of Mayra Cuevas, Alex Villasante, and Ismee Williams – and our webinar series in order to reach readers of all ages as well as aspiring writers.
While the 2021 crew created the amazing Musas Podcast which pulls back the veil and shares all the details about our publishing journeys, what debut year is really like, and how we’re working towards creating a sustainable writing career in an industry still struggling with diversity, equity, and transparency.
We’re also working on a list of resources for kidlit writers and illustrators that will include festivals, grants, suggested workshops, and more.
As founding members we’re constantly amazed at the creative ways the Musas are reaching readers, aspiring writers, and the Latinx community in general.
Check out Meg hosting Las Musas’ twitter chat, April 28, 8 pm EST: @LasMusasBooks
Looking for more advice on being a Latinx author who breaks into kidlit? Check out Meg’s blog here.