Saturday, February 9, 2019

Elizabeth Acevedo: "This is why we do the work" (Saturday Closing Keynote)

Elizabeth Acevedo doesn't stand behind a lectern.
Elizabeth Acevedo doesn't wear a suit.
Elizabeth Acevedo doesn't sit down
Elizabeth Acevedo doesn't stop
Elizabeth Acevedo no es facil
Elizabeth Acevedo refuses to be silent

Elizabeth Acevedo--National Book Award winner, Bela Pure Award winner, Boston Globe-Hornbook Award winner, New Yorker, hispanohablante, poet, author--came to talk about The Poet X and the power of representation.

Acevedo spoke about being a Latinx woman in a world that doesn't always appreciate or want a world view.  Her Ode to a Rat (watch or read) is at once a comment on the MFA program she attended, a world where some are told "that their stories are too small, too ugly" and yet "you are worthy of everything." 

"My entire life, I have had to read stories that were not about me. I had to find a way to put myself in stories." From her own search, from seeing her high-school students being unable to find themselves in books, came The Poet X, for the kids who were "not worthy of being the hero or the author," for "us girls who never saw ourselves on bookshelves." Acevedo understands, "not every reader is my reader, not every audience is my audience, not every critique is valid."

Acevedo's own story about a letter she wrote to Angela Johnson about her novel, Heaven, is an amazing illustration of the power of writing and the direct effect that we as authors and creators can have on the lives of kids. Acevedo wanted to know more about a secondary character who was a teen father, so she wrote to Johnson. Johnson didn't write back, but it didn't matter--"It felt good." And although Johnson must have had the book in the works, two years later, when the book Acevedo had asked for was published, the dedication was to Acevedo and her class. 

"I was 12 years old the first time I saw my name in print. It affirmed the idea that I was good enough to be in a book."

Acevedo told of her own student, Katherine, who didn't wasn't interested in reading, because she couldn't find herself in her book, and then couldn't find enough books. "What's next?" she asked.

The Poet X is dedicated to Katherine. Acevedo writes for her, and all her former students, for the kids who needed to see themselves in a story. "This is why we do we work."
SCBWI Executive Director Lin Oliver and Elizabeth Acevedo

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