LatinaLista — A couple of weeks ago, Latina Lista posted an op-ed about the unbelievable fact that it’s been 43 years since a Newbery-awarded book had a Latino protagonist character.
We didn’t even really touch on the next most disturbing fact — the long absence of any Latino authors given the award. Well, now there is some good news…
This week, Cuban-American poet/author Margarita Engle became the first Hispanic to earn Newbery recognition. It was for her book of poems titled The Surrender Tree. It was named a Newbery Honor book.
According to Lucia Gonzalez of REFORMA (National Association to Promote Library and Information Services to Latinos and the Spanish-Speaking), this marks the first time a Hispanic author has earned Newbery recognition, ever!
Let’s hope this is the beginning of more to come.
In case you’re unfamiliar with Margarita Engle, here are some highlights of her life in her own words:
Where did you grow up?
I was born and raised in Los Angeles, California. My mother is from Trinidad, Cuba, and my father is an artist from Los Angeles. They met when he traveled to Cuba after seeing photos of her town in National Geographic. He did not speak Spanish, and she did not speak English, but they communicated by drawing pictures.
My own deep attachment to Cuba stems from childhood visits, and return visits as an adult.
What is your earliest memory of writing/drawing?
I loved to read, especially travel books, adventure stories and poetry. I began writing poetry when I was very young. I remember going for walks, and making up poems about what I was seeing. I did not save any of those poems, but I can still remember the satisfied feeling I received from composing them.
What inspired you to write/illustrate your first book?
I was already a writer of adult literary novels about modern Cuba, when I discovered that I was also fascinated by the island’s long, troubled history. I began struggling to write in prose about Juan Francisco Manzano, who was known as el Poeta-Esclavo, the Poet-Slave of Cuba, because he wrote poetry while he was still a slave. Inspired by Karen Hesse’s young adult multiple voice novel in verse, Witness, I switched to the verse novel format, and suddenly, the story worked.
Do you use your childhood as inspiration?
I am slowly working on a brief autobiography in verse about childhood visits to Cuba, the Missile Crisis, and resulting loss of contact with my extended family on the island. It is an extremely emotional subject for me, probably the most difficult poetic challenge I will ever face.
Finish reading Margarita Engle’s interview.