Monday, August 15, 2016

Author Matt de la Peña: Diverse Books Empower Students

Author Matt de la Peña: Diverse Books Empower Students:

Author Matt de la Peña: Diverse Books Empower Students

Matt de la Peña

Matt de la Peña was a racially confused, working class kid who grew up to write books about racially confused, working class kids, but the universality and humanity of his characters will speak to young readers from any background. De la Peña is the first Hispanic winner of the 2016 Newbery Medal for his picture book Last Stop on Market Street, the author of several award-winning Young Adult (YA) novels, and this summer was honored with the National Council of Teachers of English Intellectual Freedom Award for his work to stand up to censorship after his YA novel Mexican WhiteBoy was banned from Tucson, Arizona, schools (along with several other Hispanic authors) when they terminated the district’s Mexican American Studies programs.
NEA Today spoke with de la Peña about what motivates his writing and inspires his characters.
What parts of you appear in your characters?
Matt de la Peña: I steal from myself all the time. I think my own racial confusion is always present. And the guilt I feel about not being as Mexican as my uncles and cousins. I found grace in a sport [basketball] when I was young, and I explore that idea a lot. But the part of me I mine the most is the pride I’ve always felt about growing up working class.
It seems we’ve finally entered an era where diverse books are sought out and celebrated. Why is that important?
MDLP: I do sense that things are changing. “Diverse books” are getting a little more attention from both consumers and award committees. But the most vital change is happening before the book even exists. Publishers seem to be making a concerted effort to highlight diverse titles. They’re even putting money behind them in some cases. It’s important for diverse reader, of course, but it’s also important for the viability of the book business. The country is changing. The demographics are shifting. We better get out in front of this shift is we want our business to remain viable. Otherwise smart young “diverse” readers and writers will take their interests elsewhere, as they should.
 What do you hope to contribute to the diverse books movement and ultimately to your readers?
MDLP: To be honest, I don’t come at it with a thought-out plan. When I sit down to write every new book, I’m focused on the same thing. I’m trying to explore some idea that personally interests me using characters that speak to me. I’m really interested in the mixed-race experience (as I’m mixed race myself). And I’m fascinated by working class stories (as I’m from a working class world). It’s only after the book comes out, and I get a sense of the response, that I begin to understand the work’s possible contribution. Mostly I just adore telling stories, and it just so happens that the stories I gravitate toward are relevant to readers who don’t often see themselves in books.
How can reading – especially books with diverse characters – transform the lives of young people?
MDLP: If you’re growing up in a homogenous, white neighborhood, exposure to Author Matt de la Peña: Diverse Books Empower Students:

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