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Author Meg Medina on Ritual, Identity & Bold Girls
By The Editors
Our editors and contributors can directly link their obsession with storytelling to books they read during childhood. Our fascination with unique stories and commitment to diverse literature is why we're incredibly stoked to have chatted with Richmond Virginia's own Meg Medina, this year's Newbery Medal winner.
The Newbery Medal awards the best and most distinguished American children's literature, and we can't think of a more worthy recipient. Medina's book Merci Suárez Changes Gears is a journey into the life of a sixth grader who goes through significant life changes as she transitions from elementary to middle school. What makes this Bildungsroman so compelling is the honest, humorous, and detailed account of growing up in an intergenerational family with a multicultural background.
Of course, we had some questions about her stunning work and her creative process. Dive in for an award-winning mindset that paved the way to Medina's most recent honor:
What are your creative rituals? Are any of them inspired by your Cuban heritage and culture?
I begin and end every day of my life by reading. It’s my way of honoring the written word. I read the newspaper in the morning, the old fashioned way, with a cup of coffee, and I savor the articles to the very end. At night, I read fiction for about an hour or so before I go to sleep. Every. Single. Day. I don’t feel well when I can’t make that happen!
How do your identities as a Cuban American, New Yorker, and Virginian inspire the stories you tell?
I often write about Cuban American kids and families, and I just love setting my stories in New York, which is where I grew up. So far, I haven’t written anything set in Virginia, but you never know what’s up my sleeve.
In general, though, I love to dive into identities. I love thinking about how all of our shifting identities play into our whole sense of self. When I’m writing, I begin with the biggest question of all: How does a child see this situation? It can be a very adult problem, such as dementia or poverty or violence from a family member. But I really zero in on the child’s perspective and try to honor how they experience the obstacle. Then, I start adding the gender and cultural layers. How does a girl see this problem, specifically, a Latinx girl? How does a Cuban American girl living in x-city see this situation? Each lens is like holding up a different color over a picture and it changes it significantly. So I’m basically moving from the universal to the very specific.
What do you wish more young Latinas grew up knowing or believing about themselves?
I meet so many fabulous young Latinas on the road. Brilliant, strong, bold girls. I wish they knew that the literary arts has a place for them. Sometimes, I also wish they knew that the male gaze doesn’t have to be so powerful in their lives. This came up for me recently. I was discussing my YA novel, Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass, which is heavily about girls, self-image and bullying. Interestingly, almost all the questions came from the boys in the assembly. A wise librarian held the girls after the presentation and encouraged them to ask what they weren’t comfortable asking with the boys present. Suddenly the floodgates opened. I wish they’d felt stronger and that they’d felt like they could have each other’s backs.
Purchase your own copy of Merci Suárez Changes Gears and Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass on Amazon now:
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