And another report from the YA Lit Symposium!
Celebramos Libros: Celebrating Latino Literature, YALSA YA Lit Symposium, November 6
Presenters: Janie Flores, Rosemary Chance, Margarita Engle, Benjamin Alire Saenz, Teri Lesesne
Janie Flores, a librarian from the Rio Grande Valley, began by speaking about how, growing up, she didn’t have books to read that featured Latina characters. Yes, she read and could relate to Judy Blume, Ramona Quimby, Nancy Drew, but she was also aware that they didn’t have things like Quinceaneras. Flores spoke for the need for books to be relatable – that celebrates customs and traditions and so celebrates Hispanic readers, and the need to do so while avoiding labels.
Teri Lesesne and Rosemary Chance spoke about their own passion for books and then introduced the authors, Benjamin Alire Saenz and Margarita Engle.
Benjamin Alire Saenz spoke, and my notebook is full of wonderful quotes from him. “It is an accident that I’m a young adult writer. I wanted to be a poet.” “I come from a working class Mexican family. Writing is work.” On the initial suggestion that he write for young adults: “I hated High School. You want me to revisit it?”
Saenz observed that young people turn to each other to make themselves visible, because adults make them invisible. He writes books to make teens visible: “I see you. I know you. I am you. When was the last time someone told you you were beautiful.”
In introducing Margarita Engle, Rosemary Chance asked: “Is it time for YALSA to offer a Latino award for Young Adult literature?”
Engle – who writes about historical events in verse format – spoke about finding the poetry in history. Writing a novel in verse form, Engle explained, “forces me to decide what is important.” Engle spoke about her research process – gathering books, first person accounts, immersing herself into the history and then deciding “what fits.” Another reason for writing in verse – it allows her to write about the emotional lives of people. Verse novels also provide reluctant readers with a full length book with mature topics.
Engle also spoke about her personal connection with Cuba, with her mother’s family. She spoke not just about the traditional and familial connections and summers spent in Cuba, but also the impact of losing that connection after the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Thank you to RIF, who made attending this Symposium possible.