Newbery award winner and New York Times bestselling author

Posts tagged ‘latino’

An audio documentary on migrant deaths on our border

logoCatherine Komp, radio producer at Virginia Currents on NPR (locally WCVE 88.9 FM,) recently sent me the audio documentary below. Created by her colleagues for a show called Making Contactit examines migrant deaths on our borders.

A look at migration through  magical realism Finalist International Latino Book Awards, 2014

A look at migration through magical realism
Finalist International Latino Book Awards, 2014

When I was writing The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind, I struggled many times as I wrote scenes of unspeakable violence.   Should I write such gruesome things for young people?  Was it necessary or gratuitous?

In the end, I chose to include the awful details, leaning toward telling fiction as honestly as I could.

I hope you’ll carve out a little time to listen to the audio. January ushers in a new Congress and a fresh immigration battle. The debate will be heated on both sides, a healthy – if painful – exercise. What I continue to ask is that we remember that, in the end, we are talking about people, about human beings, and about the ethics of addressing suffering.

Contra Tiempo in RVA: Where Salsa and Hip Hop Meet Activism

contra-tiempoIt’s a great week for fans of Latin music and dance. Buy your tickets right now for ContraTiempo who will be performing Tuesday, Nov. 19, 7:30 PM at CenterStage. Their name literally translates to a “rough patch” in a situation, but this Los Angeles-based Urban Latin dance theater company offers nothing but joy. The music is irresistible and the dancing is first-rate. On Tuesday, they’ll perform Full, Still Hungry, a contemporary piece that examines food and consumption. It’s art, it’s activism, and it’s fun.images

imagesI got a taste of their work this past Saturday at ART 180, where they did a free community workshop. Sponsored by the Modlin Center at  the University of Richmond, the company has been in town for about a week, working – as is their mission – in schools and communities to use dance as a tool in transformation.  Within an hour, we were stepping, dancing salsa, and moving in a “rueda” (wheel) that featured cues like “talk on the telephone” and “catchers mitt”  to make us pose and move as if we knew what we were doing. I danced with men, with women, with kids in third grade, with teens, most of whom I’d never met. The crowd was wonderful, and the dancers broke down their step routines so that we were all in synch and making music and movement together.

To me, dance is another way of telling story, and story is a way of coming together. contratiempoCheck them out. See you there!

Tickets $22; U of R students, free.


Some music for Yaqui Delgado

Fania_All-StarsSo I’m putting the finishing touches on the launch events for Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass which comes out next month. And because it takes hours to work out all the details, I’m listening to music that puts me in the mood.

Yaqui Delgado takes a shard of truth from my personal life. I wrote this novel white-knuckled some days, thinking back to when I was an early teen facing down a schoolyard bully. I was learning everything about everything back then: learning about lousy adults, learning what it meant to be a Latina, learning how to really take care of myself when others couldn’t. It was a scary time, but all these years later, I find myself thinking a lot about all I took away from that experience.

It was a Puerto Rican girl, Aida, I remember most. She lived upstairs, cut school, and had bad acne but a hot boyfriend nonetheless. More importantly, she taught me to salsa. Sometimes she gave parties in her hot apartment with Celia Cruz and the Fania All Stars (Johnny Pacheco, Hector LaVoe, etc) blasting out of her mother’s stereo until the walls shook. When I think back to that time in my life, the soundtrack belongs to those old masters.fania

So, here’s a little YouTube gem of the late Celia Cruz fronting the band in Africa. And then, a more recent piece by Celia – Sin Clave– to get you in the spirit via Cuban music that (like a tough girl) is driven by its own, unerring beat or clave.

Celia With Fania All Stars 1974

Sin Clave

March 2013

March 2013

YAQUI DELGADO WANTS TO KICK YOUR ASS will be in stores March 26, 2013.  

Check here for reviews and info.

Check here for book launch event information

Hispanidad Meets First Fridays: Helene Ruiz at Art6

from ¡Azucar!

This month you’ll find celebrations of Hispanic heritage in all sorts of corners of the city – and that’s thanks in part to the efforts of Helene Ruiz. The Bronx native lives in Mechanicsville VA these days, but nothing has slowed her commitment to artists, culture and the community.

Before we launch into the quick Q & A, here are two events to keep track of:

Sabor Feminina (Female Flavor) at Pine Camp Cultural Arts Center through November 2. The free show features Ruiz’s Goddesses series, with nods to Cuban Yoruba spiritualism.   Mon – Fri 10 – 7 pm. Saturday 10 am – 2 pm.

¡Azucar! at Art6 Gallery, Oct 5, 5 – 10 pm. Ruiz ushers in First Fridays doing what she does best: gathering artists together to celebrate in one voice. This multimedia event will feature the work of several Latin visual artists as well as the Latin Ballet of Virginia and Cuban percussionist (click to listen) Melena la Rumbera.

Five questions with Helene Ruiz

Helene Ruiz

What’s a nice Bronx girl like you doing in Mechanicsville?

My parents moved to Virginia almost 30 yrs ago. My father passed back in 2001, my mom is getting old and my sister suffers from MS, so I figured, why not move there, help out with the house and help them? After all, art is everywhere anyway! I can always get back and forth to NYC whenever I need, it’s not that far away.

Why did you think it was important to pull together ¡Azucar! in Richmond?

I thought it was important to use art as a means of education on the diversity of Latinos thus hopefully eliminating stereotypical images. Also, in this exhibit, I am dedicating one area to the Orishas in order to show the connections of spirituality and culture to Africa. When the slaves were transported to the islands, they were forced into Catholicism. They worshipped their gods secretly under the Catholic icons since they were not allowed to worship their gods openly.

You met Salvador Dali in 1973! Not many people can say such a thing. Tell us about the experience and how it impacted you as an artist?

I was lucky enough to be given an opportunity to be part of an art class at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. In one of the life drawing classes, we were asked to sketch a very large model. I was sketching her like she seemed to me, as a large melting candle dripping over the chair. Dali was walking through the classroom looking over the students’ shoulders at their drawings of this model. When he came to mine, he patted me on the shoulder and winked his eye. I, at the time, had no idea who he was. Then the teacher told me OMG! That was Dali! He liked your drawing! This further confirmed my love for surrealism at a young age.

You were the founder of an artist collective called the Urban Individualists. Does that group still exist in New York? Is ¡Azucar! a sample of the arts collective experience? When I moved from New York, the collective kind of scattered all over the USA and internationally as well. However, most still do participate in shows I organize. And, yes! This is a sample of an arts collective experience I would say!

New projects you want to tell us about? If I could slow down this mind of mine it would be weird! lol…but I am certainly thinking of a few proposals for the future! And there will always be ideas for projects, the usual set backs are funding, venues, etc.

How do Latina moms and teens talk about stuff that matters?

This came across my desk this morning, and I wanted to pass it along.You know that I’m big on strong girls, so this seems like a painless way for real people to add to the body of information we have about how we encourage Latina girls to have healthy relationships.

If you have a couple of hours to spare and you care about girls and Latino families, contact Carla (info at bottom). She’s the study coordinator and graduate student at Virginia Commonwealth University who can answer your questions. Interviews can be conducted in English or Spanish. In addition, interviews can take place in the Richmond or DC metropolitan area.

Flyers in English and Spanish here.

  • Study Title: Talking with Adolescents About Healthy Behaviors   We are looking for Latina teenagers (14-17 years old) and their mothers to participate in individual interviews about healthy relationships and behaviors.
  • Who can participate in the study? – Latina adolescents who are 14-17 years old – Mothers of Latina adolescents who are 14-17 years old
  • What will I receive if I am in the study? – If you participate in the interview, moms and daughterw will each receive a $20 gift cerfificate to Walmart
  • What do you need to do? – Mothers will need to agree to participate in an interview – Latina adolescents will need to agree to particpate and they will need to get their parent’s permission to be interviewed – Particpate in an interview that will take about two hours – Share what you think about Latina teenagers’ dating, sexuality, and pregnancy, and ways we may help Latina adolescents make healthy relationship decisions
  • Who can I call if I have a question or if I want to participate? – Carla Shaffer, Study Coordinator, at (804) 827-4450

Me at age 10 with the important women in my life.
I am still waiting for The Talk.

Hate Crimes, YA Lit & Latinos: An interview with Caroline Bock, author of LIE


Caroline Bock

St. Martin’s Griffin, 2011


I can’t say it’s a pleasure to read a book about hate crimes by teens. But since hate crimes against Latinos have seen  the highest spike in more than a decade – according to the FBI, over 66% of hate crimes in 2010 targeted Latinos – I was intrigued to find LIE by Caroline Bock. This debut novel tackles the topic by taking us inside the minds of both victims and victimizers. Ten lives intersect one horrible night when two brothers – one an immigrant from El Salvador, one a natural US citizen – are brutally assaulted by a group of Long Island teenagers. The novel lays bare the land mines of power groups among teens, racism, and ineffective adults. Mostly, though, I admire this powerful book for making us consider the bigger question of how hatred this dark can take root in people who are young, bright, and at the beginning of everything.

I’m honored to introduce you to Caroline Bock in my first Q & A feature, where we’ll talk about both craft and content.

Congratulations on a great debut, Caroline. To start us off, would you tell us a little bit about yourself in terms of what brought you to writing? What made you move from film and marketing to the world of writing for young people?  

Thank you so much, Meg. I feel like I’m in terrific company with you and your readers!

I’ve always had dual career dreams – to work in television and to write novels, screenplays and poetry. I was the editor of my high school literary magazine, I went to college, on scholarship, and majored in Communications and English at Syracuse University. I thought I would work for a few years in this job I found as a public relations assistant for a cable network and then go to graduate school and write my novels. Twenty years later, I was leading the marketing and public relations teams at Bravo and at the Independent Film Channel and I realized that I hadn’t written that novel I thought I would always write. I quit. (Well, it wasn’t as easy a decision as that but pursing one’s dreams is important at any age, isn’t it?). So about eight years ago, I started my second career as a writer, which by then also included being a mom.

Is the title LIE, as in the Long Island Expressway… or is the title Lie, as in an untruth? Both work, of course, but which did you have in mind?

Originally it was L.I.E. —  after the expressway – I thought I was being clever. But here’s why having early readers – and little brothers — is so important. My younger brother, David, who lives now in Cleveland, Ohio read the title and said to me, “What are you thinking? Nobody outside of New York is going to know why you are naming your novel after a highway.” So, after some thought, I changed the name to LIE, as in “untruth,” though I asked my publisher if we could have the title all in caps so all the New Yorkers – and all the close readers — would read the double meaning.

We’re both Queens, New York girls, which is always fun to find out. Do you still live and write there?  

When I was in my 20s, I lived in Queens in several different neighborhoods — Flushing, Rego Park, Forest Hills.  In LIE, I write about baseball and the Mets — I lived within walking distance of the baseball stadium – and it was a lot of fun going to games with my super-fan husband. About a dozen years ago, I moved out to Long Island where I live now – but it’s still only about 30 minutes (without traffic) to get to a Mets game and we are often there.

What drew you to write a novel about a hate crime against Latinos on Long /Island?

The first was having a very good friend from El Salvador with two teenage sons. The second was reading a 2008 front page New York Times story about the murder of young man from Ecuador by a group of mainly white teens on Long Island, who were out “beaner-hopping” in their words, i.e. beating up people they assumed were Latinos for sport.

I kept asking myself, “How could this happen here – in Long Island, in these nice middle class suburbs, in the 21st century?”  I turned to my friend and asked her that. She wasn’t shocked  – she knew prejudice, discrimination, violence  — she knew it well in El Salvador, where she fled from a civil war, and here, on Long Island in New York.

Describe your research for this novel. Were there any surprises as you dug into real-life cases? Have you come to any personal conclusions about what spurs this type of violence?

I read intensively about hate crimes across the country; I spoke at length to many friends and acquaintances from places such as El Salvador, Dominican Republic, Cuba and Puerto Rico about their experiences in the suburbs; I even called the county sheriff’s office to confirm details about visiting hours for the county jail.  However, I never spoke with anyone involved with the actual incident on Long Island. By the end of the day, when I started writing, I wanted to make these characters my own and I put away the research. I think that’s why you come way feeling that these characters are “real” – the fiction makes them so.

In doing my research what surprised me—and saddened and angered me the most—was learning that these kind of violent hate crimes against Latinos were not isolated to Long Island in any way.   I keep hearing from readers across the country that they can relate to the themes in the novel.

One last thing, one thing that kept me going: all four of my grandparents were immigrants (from Russia, Poland and Italy) and they had hard times when they first arrived. They faced discrimination and many obstacles to the American dream. Yet, what I want more than anything is for this country to shed our 20th century prejudices. I hope my debut novel makes people think about how we break the cycle of racism and prejudice and embrace the diversity that is the destiny of the America  in the 21st century.

You tell this novel from alternating points of view. Tell us a little bit about that decision. What worked about that strategy and what was difficult?

I think I should have put a warning label on my novel: beware 10 distinct first person points of view even though 17-year-old Skylar and Sean emerge as the two main characters.

What worked? I believe in some ways the reader becomes the 11th point of view and hopefully is asking himself or herself by the end of the novel: what would I have done?   There’s not a lot of authorial moralizing in this book – which some readers have liked and others have been critical of – you read it and judge!

What was difficult? I had 10 different characters in my head – sometimes all talking to me at once, demanding to be written.

Many of the characters in LIE fall far short of the way we’d like to think that people of good conscience behave. I admire that you still make them feel fully realized – and not just twirling moustache bad-guys. Which character proved the most challenging for you to write? Is there a favorite – or one you’d like to slap around in a dark alley?

I’d like to give a good talking to Lisa Marie. She’s the best friend from hell.

To some extent, all writers call on their personal experience in shaping characters. Skylar lives with her single dad, a trait you share with her. How did your life experience of being raised by your father inform how you developed these two characters?

When I was four-and-a half my mother had a stroke, which left her brain-damaged and paralyzed and hospitalized for the rest of her life. My father raised four kids alone and I’m the oldest of the four. There was always a sense of loss in our house. We were the kids without the mother. I felt like I had to find my own way in life, though my father was there – a big, gruff, kind-hearted presence.

So when I started writing and I wanted to create a particularly vulnerable family, I created Skylar, who had lost her mother the year before from cancer, and her father, Tommy Thompson. I didn’t realize how much I was drawing on my inner self until I finished writing but I think that’s the way it is with a lot of writers.

You delve into the psychology of power.  I’m always interested in how that plays out in the lives of young women. Can you talk a little bit about the relationship between Jimmy and Skylar? 

Jimmy, the leader of the group, handsome, confident, star Scholar-Athlete, wants to control Skylar – as much as he wants to control everyone around him. He sees the world in terms of winners and losers – and he plans to be a “winner.” In his world, there’s “first place or no place.” Why wouldn’t Skylar want to be his girlfriend? Everyone wants to be Jimmy’s friend. Haven’t so many of us felt giddy being picked by the boy we thought could do no wrong – until he does.

 The book contains violence, sexuality, and suicide. What’s your answer to critics of these elements in books for young people?

I devoured novels as a teen to understand the way the world works – I think many teens read for that reason.  At the end of the day, we can’t make the world —  either in fantasies such as Hunger Games or in  contemporary, realistic novels such as LIE – any prettier or lighter than it is and still be true to our characters and our stories – and our lives.

Most of all, I’m in the Sherman Alexie  camp (one of my inspirations for LIE  is his brilliant novel: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian).  Earlier this year, he wrote in the Wall Street Journal a response to such critics that he writes books for teenagers, “Because I vividly remember what it felt like to be a teen facing everyday and epic dangers.  I don’t write to protect them.  It’s far too late for that.  I write to give them weapons—in the forms of words and ideas – that will help them fight their monsters.”

Are there upcoming projects you want to tell us about?

Yes, but they are still in development, and I am very superstitious and cannot talk about them until I know they will exist beyond my computer screen.  But I do hope to have a long second career writing novels, screenplays and poetry, so stay tuned as they say in television.

Meg, thank you for the chance to speak with you and your readers!


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Drawing on July 16.

(FB mentions and retweets about the giveaway are always appreciated!)

When Characters Muscle In

Thank you, Hannah Love, for this photo

The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind releases through Walker Books in the UK as a gorgeous paperback next month — and review copies are going out with their own milagro. Nice!  Here’s a post I did for Under Cover Books about the unexpected pleasures of surrendering to your characters. In life and in fiction, I’ve found that it’s always the quiet ones that surprise you. At least, that’s how it happened in this book.

P.S. Love the cover? Me gusta tambien. Check out Olaf Hajek’s other beautiful work.  Here’s a teaser.

I vote for more illustration in YA book jackets.