Getting To Know Elizabeth Acevedo, SLJTeen Live! 2018 Keynote Speaker

In anticipation of the free August 15 event, here’s our interview with opening keynote speaker Elizabeth Acevedo.

Rising star Elizabeth Acevedo is kicking off our seventh annual SLJTeen Live! virtual conference, taking place on August 15. The debut YA author’s The Poet X (HarperCollins) has already garnered much acclaim, including the 2018 Boston Globe Horn Book Award for Fiction and four starred reviews. “Magnificently crafted, Acevedo’s bildungsroman in verse is a stunning account of a teen girl’s path to poetry,” said SLJ’s starred review.

In anticipation for the free, daylong event featuring high-profile and up-and-coming YA authors, here’s our quick interview with Acevedo.

What inspired you to write your latest work?

I was an eighth grade English teacher in Maryland and I ran a poetry club for the middle school. I was always so surprised when some of my shyest and quietest students would come to the poetry club with very thoughtful, creative, and genuinely well-crafted poems. It made me remember what it was like when I first joined the poetry club at my high school and how powerful it can be for young people—especially the ones that often get overlooked or underestimated in class—to have a creative outlet. Xiomara’s story was born from that.

How does your book relate to the theme of this year’s SLJTeen Live! event: “Speaking Truth to Power”?

That theme can pretty much sum up my novel! The Poet X centers around Xiomara Batista, a Dominican teen in Harlem who uses her poetry to bring up questions about religion, sexuality, #MeToo, and her own complicated relationship with her parents. She’s a character who has a lot of powerful things to say but must learn to take up space not only with her body, but with her voice.

What do you wish you could tell your 15-year-old self?

What I most wish I could whisper into my teen ear: “There is no blueprint. There is no one path. No one can tell you how to be the woman you want to become. You must make her up, you must trust your vision of your life. And you are brilliant and bold enough to do so.”

What advice would you give librarians working with teens?

Keep doing what you’re doing. We need you. Every writer I know has an intense love of libraries because I think we all know what it’s like to be an outsider and find refuge in a space that holds not only books, but the care of someone who nurtures our intellectual and creative self. So keep putting book of all kinds into the hands of young people. You are unlocking a door and laying down a welcome mat to a safe haven every time you do so.

What are you working on next?

My next novel, With the Fire on High, is schedule to release in May 2019, and I’ve been steadily crafting the story of Emoni Santiago, a teen mom in Philadelphia who dreams of being a chef. She has the magic and talent do so, now she just needs to learn to trust both.

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