Saturday, August 5, 2023

Debut Author Panel: Federico Erebia

Author Federico Erebia is a retired doctor and woodworker (who worked both of those careers simultaneously for 15 years!) and in continued multitasking fashion he’s also translating fellow panelist Levi De LaRosa’s answers for us today from Spanish to English. 

With the advent of the Pandemic Federico no longer felt safe working in stranger’s houses building cabinets and furniture, and so began to write down the many years of stories that had been rattling around in his mind. With everything that Federico does, he says, he’s approaching it after having already obsessed about ‘that thing’ a lot, calling it his neurodivergent approach to life and art.

His debut book, PEDRO & DANIEL, is also a memorial to his brother who passed away 30 years ago. Federico’s medical career was focused on providing care to HIV+ patients in the late 80s and 90s (Federico’s brother died of AIDS in 1993) and Federico describes that earlier era as a horrible time that people have forgotten about, the amount of ostracizing that happened for that HIV+ community cannot be downplayed. It’s important to not forget our history, he says, it’s always important to revisit it so that we aren’t destined to repeat it. Federico wanted his book to be a place to remember and celebrate the memories of the 40 million people that have died of AIDS.

Moderator Martha Brockenbrough talks about how we live in an era where people are trying to prevent young people from reading diverse stories and suppressing the truth and that stories like Federico’s are the ones that are trying to be banned. Federico talks about how the entire first part of his young adult novel is actually made up of his 17 picturebook manuscripts that he’d written that people had told him weren’t appropriate issues for children to be reading about. But Federico is aware that many young children are living these difficult, violent experiences.

“It’s such a powerful time the first time you SEE yourself in a book, or on a movie screen, or on a TV show.” 

Martha reminds us pushback like the kind Federico experienced is often not about keeping children safe, it’s about adults being too uncomfortable to hear the truth.

Federico is on the SCBWI Impact & Legacy Fund Steering Committee, among others, and one of the reasons that he does so much volunteer work for SCBWI is because joining SCBWI was the most important thing he feels he did to become an author, “There are so many opportunities to volunteer, it’s a wonderful organization all over the world.”

When remembering his path to publication, Federico says, “It’s hard to explain to people that haven’t read it, I did take a lot of risks, and I’m so glad that my Levine Querido editor, Nick Thomas, kept letting me take those risks.”

Bonus detail for artists: Julie Kwon, whose illustrations appear in PEDRO & DANIEL was found on Instagram by Thomas.

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