This year marks our 14th annual New Voices Award writing contest. Every year, LEE & LOW BOOKS gives the New Voices Award to a debut author of color for a picture book manuscript.
Did you know that last year, children’s books written by authors of color made up less than seven percent of the total number of books published? As a multicultural publisher, we’re dedicated to increasing those numbers. The New Voices Award is one way we can help new authors of color break into publishing.
In this new blog series, we thought it’d be fun to bring together some past New Voices Award winners on the blog to see how they got their start as authors, what inspires them, and where they are now.
Last month we announced the finalists of our first New Visions Award, a new writing award for a debut author of color for a middle grade or young adult science fiction, fantasy, or mystery novel. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be highlighting these talented finalists on our blog as they answer questions about what inspires them, the writing process, and more. Perhaps among these five finalists you’ll find your next favorite author!
Q: What has been your experience writing from a different cultural background that may be unfamiliar to most young readers?
Ibi Zoboi, Haiti.
While most readers are familiar with Edwidge Danticat, there are, of course, other Haitian and non-Haitian writers telling stories about Haitian children. M. Sindy Felin’s Touching Snow was a National Book Award Finalist. The recent winner of the Printz Award is In Darkness, a story about a Haitian boy during the earthquake written by Nick Lake. One of my favorite Haitian YA books is Taste of Salt by the late Frances Temple.
Haiti has an amazing literary tradition and under a brutal dictatorship, writers either risked their lives or were sent into exile. So, for me, writing about Haiti is very political. Though, my stories are cloaked in a world of magic. What better way to convey Haiti’s complex history and mythology than in a young adult fantasy novel? This simply adds another layer of depth to what young readers already know about Haiti, or any given culture. They must know that culture is multi-dimensional and is not regulated to the superficial “facts” in the media. This is why mythology breathes life into everything I write. While the names and magical systems differ, there is an interconnecting power in world mythology that can resonate with any reader.
If you’ve been stuck at home from the hurricane and spending your time polishing your young adult novel, good news: due to Hurricane Sandy, we will be extending the deadline for our first annual New Visions Award. Entries should now be postmarked by November 14.
The New Visions Award will be given to a middle grade or young adult science fiction, fantasy, or mystery manuscript by a writer of color who has not previously had a middle grade or young adult novel published. See the full submissions requirements and guidelines.
In this excerpt from her 2012 Pura Belpré acceptance speech, Under the Mesquiteauthor Guadalupe Garcia McCall shares how writing the book helped her heal and brought her closer to her father:
My life with my mother was full of love and acceptance. I was blessed to be her daughter, even if for a little while. That’s why I wanted Under the Mesquite to be a true reflection of her nature. I wanted it to do what she did best—to nurture young people’s dreams, to give them the courage and strength to pursue those dreams. Writing Mesquite was both wonderful and painful. For in the process of writing this book, I pulled out and dusted off memories I had set aside, memories I had tucked into deep crevices in my heart, put away for fear of losing them. I am glad they are written down now. My mother lives because this book exists. It is her nurturing spirit that resides in these pages, her wisdom, her love, and I am so happy to be able to share her with you.
Writing someone’s biography can be a tricky business. First—and this is important—you’ve got to be enthusiastic about the person you’re writing about. Otherwise, it won’t work. Readers will know that on some level you’re not engaged and they won’t enjoy reading the book any more than you enjoyed writing it. I was asked once to write a biography of the Three Stooges. I said no, because I’ve never found their humor to be funny. Sure, I could get the facts right, but that’s not enough. You have to have passion.
Congratulations to Juan Felipe Herrera, who has just been appointed California poet laureate! Herrera is the author of 28 volumes of poetry and other works, including several award-winning children’s books.