Winner of the Carnegie Meal 2019: The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo



[Applause] [Applause] I was not sure that this story was going to be able to have a global reach I was so specific in what I was writing and how I was writing that I didn't think anyone from outside of heart of New York City but honestly going to access this book and they believed in it in such a way that it has sold in 11 different countries has been translated I was told to burst but not translate I was told it would be too difficult and yet they found a way to make sure that the story was in the right hands and that being said the right hands here was Egmont so thinking so that should monkey who championed this book so early who made sure that it was getting the press really pushed this quiet story about a girl her feelings into a platform that it has here and I want to tell you all a little bit about where this story the impetus where it came right because of a communal age story about a young woman and her feelings is not uncommon probably read that but for me it was so specific in terms of who is this young woman and why haven't I seen her before I thought eighth grade literature and writing in a community called Prince George's County in Maryland my school was 78% from by in America on American descendants close to 20% black America they had never had an opera lucky on teacher they had never had a lot being on teacher teaching the course subject which means they never it has someone in front of the room who looked and came from the same and in this space I had young people the majority of my students who were at sixth grade reading levels even though it was an eighth grade course and I really struggled I was 22 years old in front of 150 young people and didn't know how to teach them how to read I wasn't sure how to do that I was a voracious reader growing up I love books and so the one thing I kept trying to do was how do I make them fall in love with literature and I had this one young person who I loved she was real slick at the mouth really witty had something smart to say all the time if you've ever been a classroom based teacher you know that those students are the ones that you always have to say that's really inappropriate don't say that again on the inside you're like you're so not necessarily a very slick model but what quietly say like keep that same spirit keep that same spirit and she would tell me all the time I am NOT in the meter you keep trying to cook books in front of us and I'm not I mean and I asked her what kind of book do you think you would like because I put everything exciting everything that was gonna be a black mustard movie she got quite like Hunger Games right diverging all of this stuff that she's like I don't care about sparkly vampires each other like this is not the story I want and so I said Catherine what would be the kind of story that you would be into and she said these books just ain't about us we are the post about us and I went out and I bought dr. Woodson and stylist his nails and Hulya ominous and all of these books that I had read grown enough these few books that reminded me that I was allowed to exist in literature and I put them in front of her in the student who told me she was not a reader within two weeks have finished every single book I presented with her I present it to her she said I was next that's it that's my teacher budget and at the time that was all the books right that doesn't that pile of dozens of books was it there was nothing else that spoke to what she was saying she wanted that this idea of diversity and literature that we are facing right now is cyclical we faced it time and time again and it feels like after a certain point if people aren't loud enough it dwindles out because it's not easy it's not easy to market it's not easy to publicize it's not easy to feel like you have to translate people but isn't that exactly what literature is I grew up having to read a lot of books and did not have people like me in them and I loved those books so why can't people who don't have my same background find love for the literature that I write as well why don't we make this assumption that that's not possible I love the quote by dr. mucins Bishop who says all books should be a mirror and opportunity to see yourself but there should also be a window an opportunity to read and experience different in your home I think what this award is this metal really means is that although I was so specific and writing a home girl from Harlem here in the UK you all found value in this character and you all found that there were pieces that she had of wanting to be louder of wanting to take up space of wanting to be bold that is a universal experience even though when I was writing I'm like she's not half slang she don't speak Spanish she don't walk around through the world like this I wasn't necessarily thinking that my readership would move beyond that girl hey here we are and I think for me that is so pivotal about what the power of literature is and I would be remiss if I didn't do at least like an excerpt of a poem right because I'm so proud of the fact that there were so many books that were shortlisted that were poetry books right and also authors of color and I was informed that if I were to wait today I would first author of color ever to win this medal the March to all the black and brown girls or readers who are writers who deserve to be allowed this is for us writers us readers us girls who never saw ourselves on bookshelves but we're still writing poems when we talked and we've been called teeth sucking of snapping eyes born bitter brittle of tangled tongues sand paper that's been origami into girl not where you being the hero nor the author but we were always Medusa's favorite daughters of circuit curls of heart i looks dreaming in the foreshadow we compose ourselves since childhood taking pens to our palms as if we could rewrite the stanzas of lifeline that tried to tell us we would never amount to much and when we were relegated to the margins we still dance by chopping the footnotes we still far away onto the cover from our full selves to the page and with every kind of panic and bouquet of pansies a big gulp oops of these here hips and smart quips and popping bubble gum kisses us girls who never saw our sounds on bookshelves or still writing tales in the dark as black and brown girls brick-built masters of every metaphor and every metamorphosis catches with fresh manicures nail fighting down obsidian stone and painstakingly crafting our own mirrors and stories into existence [Applause]

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