I’m happy to have today on the blog Margarita Engle! She’s such a great writer, and she was nominated Young People’s Poet Laureate. It’s an absolute honor to have her talking about her writing experience. You can find more about her books here.
And without further ado, let’s get right to the interview.
1) What is your favorite part of being a writer?
My favorite aspect of being a verse novelist is the actual process of writing. I love to immerse myself in the voice and flow of short poems that link to tell a longer story. When I’m alone in a river of words, time does not seem to exist, and the creative effort is its own reward. I don’t think about revisions, rejections, publication, reviews, or anything else, just that one poem, one page.
2) How has your cultural background influenced your writing? Do you write many Latinx characters?
I am Cuban-American, so most of my characters are either historical or fictional Cubans. Occasionally, I branch out to include other Latinos, or even historical figures from other countries. In those cases, I seek experts willing to serve as proofreaders, helping me avoid cultural errors.
3) As someone who comes from a diverse background, did you have any experience in publishing that put that in a negative light?
I have been blessed with many opportunities, but seeing my books in chain bookstores is not one of them. The combination of poetry and Latino topics has typecast me as “limited to the school and library market.” That is discrimination by the stores’ buyers, not by the publishing industry.
4) How important do you think diversity is in publishing, especially regarding Latinx representation?
Latinos are such a large percentage of the population in California, where I live, that Latino themes and bilingual books will be increasingly essential. Even in other areas, I think kids from all backgrounds should be reading about each other, to promote mutual understanding and empathy, the first steps toward compassion and peacemaking.
5) As a young writer, what books influenced you? Did any come from your own background?
As a child, I loved poetry and adventure stories. José Martí was often quoted in my home, and Emily Dickinson was accessible in English, but I also had—and still have—a special affinity for short Japanese forms, especially haiku and tanka. When it came to fiction, I loved animal stories such as The Black Stallion, but I wanted to learn about the whole world, and there were no multicultural books yet, so I looked for travel stories, including those written for adults.
6) Where do you get inspiration for your books?
I am inspired by reading, memories, and travel, as well as imagination.
7) Any good advice for Latinx and POC writers out there?
Write from the heart. Don’t worry about publication while you’re writing, just enjoy the process. Don’t be in a hurry. Just as dancers and musicians need to rehearse, writers have to practice. Manuscripts that never find a publisher are not failures, they’re rehearsals.
Thanks so much for this lovely interview, Margarita!
Margarita Engle is the national Young People’s Poet Laureate, and the first Latino to receive that honor. She is the Cuban-American author of many verse novels, including The Surrender Tree, a Newbery Honor winner, and The Lightning Dreamer, a PEN USA Award winner. Her verse memoir, Enchanted Air, received the Pura Belpré Award, Golden Kite Award, Walter Dean Myers Honor, and Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award, among others. Drum Dream Girl received the Charlotte Zolotow Award for best picture book text.
Her newest verse novel about the island is Forest World, and her newest picture books are All the Way to Havana, and Miguel’s Brave Knight, Young Cervantes and His Dream of Don Quixote.
Books forthcoming in 2018 include The Flying Girl, How Aída de Acosta learned to Soar, and Jazz Owls, a Novel of the Zoot Suit Riots.
Margarita was born in Los Angeles, but developed a deep attachment to her mother’s homeland during childhood summers with relatives. She was trained as an agronomist and botanist as well as a poet and novelist. She lives in central California with her husband.