There are only a few authors who I can confidently say I’ve read their backlists but Elizabeth Acevedo is one of those authors for me. In today’s spotlight we find out a little bit more about this highly celebrated young adult author.
As always, let’s start with a quick bio. Elizabeth Acevedo is an award-winning Dominican-American poet and author who was born and raised in New York City as the only daughter of Catholic Dominican immigrants. By the age of twelve Acevedo had decided that she wanted to be a rapper but quickly realised that what she actually wanted to do was perform her poetry. She took part in her first poetry slam at the age of fourteen, loved it and then continued to take part in open mic nights across the city.
Acevedo went on to gain a BA in Performing Arts from The George Washington University and an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Maryland. After graduation she continued to take part in slam poetry competitions whilst she taught the eighth grade and it was through her teaching that she discovered that her students weren’t keen on reading because they didn’t often see themselves represented in books. This drove her to try her hand at writing her own stories.
Beastgirl and Other Origin Myths (2016)
As you can imagine, Acevedo published many poems during her years performing slam poetry but her first traditionally published work comes in the form of a poetry collection titled Beastgirl and Other Origin Myths (2016). This collection of folkloric poems is centered on the historical and mythological experiences of a first-generation American woman as she travels from the border of the Dominican Republic to the bustling streets of New York City.
It won the 2016 Berkshire Prize, became a finalist for the YesYes Chapbook prize, and received an Honorable Mention in The Eric Hoffer Chapbook Award (2017).
The Poet X (2018)
A few years later Acevedo published her first verse novel The Poet X (2018) – a testimony to her skills at storytelling and her talent for poetry. The novel is written in the form of a fifteen-year-old slam poet’s diary – Xiomara’s powerful story expresses what it’s like to be a girl suddenly in possession of a woman’s body whilst battling with the expectations of her religious parents.
This refreshing take on a young adult contemporary was incredibly well received and became a New York Times bestseller. It went on to win the Boston Globe Horn Book Award, the Walter Dean Myers Award for Outstanding Children’s Literature, the Michael L. Printz Award, the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, the 2019 Carnegie Medal and became a finalist for the Kirkus prize.
With the Fire on High (2019)
After such an incredible response, Acevedo quickly published her first traditional novel With the Fire on High in 2019. This heartfelt contemporary sees an aspiring young mother, Emoni, strive to become the chef that she’s always dreamed of becoming even in the face of adversity. Sprinkled with wisdom and delicious food this novel actively pushes the reader to challenge many stereotypes and re-think societal expectations. The novel went on to be named a best book of the year by the New York Public Library, Publishers Weekly and the School Library Journal.
Clap When You Land (2020)
Then earlier this year, Acevedo published her follow up Clap When You Land which tells the story of two sisters—Camino, who lives in the Dominican Republic, and Yahaira, who lives in New York—who only discover they’re related after their father dies in a plane crash. This dual narrative verse novel is full to the brim with both grief and love and tells the story of loss, the difficulty of forgiveness and the bonds that shape our lives. Already it has been awarded a Boston Globe–Horn Book Honor title and has been a Kirkus finalist.
During this time Elizabeth Acevedo has also contributed to multiple short story and poetry collections that mostly focus on feminist themes and being ‘in-between’ whether that be age or culture. She has also recorded audiobooks, led a Ted talk and continued to perform her poetry on a national level.
Acevedo’s ascent within the publishing sphere has signalled a slow shift in the historically homogeneous industry. This expansion is what Acevedo was originally driven by and is what continues to fuel her love of writing –
“For a long time, there was this [notion] that depictions of characters of colour would not sell the book. And I’m so happy to see more black girls, more brown girls, more black boys – their faces on books and reshaping what we think will make readers ‘afraid’ to buy a book versus how compelling it can be to see yourself,” she said. “But also to see someone different than yourself as a hero. Imagine how much would be undone if we saw depictions of heroes who were black.”Elizabeth Acevedo