Dominican American writer, Elizabeth Acevedo added some color to the Carnegie Medal’s lily-white roster when she won the award this week.
Acevedo is the first person of color to receive the honor in its 83-year history, according to The Guardian. The Carnegie Medal is the top honor for children’s book writers in the United Kingdom.
Acevedo won the prize for The Poet X,a novel about Xiomara, a Dominican girl who uses slam poetry to “understand her mother’s religion and her own relationship to the world.”
“Xiomara Batista feels unheard and unable to hide in her Harlem neighborhood. Ever since her body grew into curves, she has learned to let her fists and her fierceness do the talking,” read a synopsis on Acevedo’s website.
“But Xiomara has plenty she wants to say, and she pours all her frustration and passion onto the pages of a leather notebook, reciting the words to herself like prayers — especially after she catches feelings for a boy in her bio class named Aman, who her family can never know about.”
Acevedo was inspired to write the book while she taught middle school English in Maryland. Katherine, a former student, refused to read assigned books because “none of these books are about us.”
“I felt like this student had given me a challenge, or at least permission to write a story about young people who take up space, who do not make themselves small, who learn the power of their own words,” the writer said in her acceptance speech.
A need forrepresentation inspires Acevedo to keep writing.
“I write for us. I write for us to see ourselves depicted with tenderness and nuance and ferocity and unflinching honesty,” she told Hip Latina in May. “I hope young Latinx readers, particularly if they are Afro-Latinx, see that they are allowed to be the heroes, they are allowed to live loudly and colorfully and with their whole selves. I hope they know they are seen and loved and that I’m rooting for, and cheering on, their triumphs.”
Her second novel, With the Fire on High, was released in May and centers around Afro-Latinx cuisine. Acevedo’s culture provides her with plenty of material.
“I have no other basis for comparison in regards to my identity, except for my own upbringing, but I think what being my parents’ child ultimately does is make me aware of the different ways we can tell stories,” she said.
“The jokes and riddles and folktales I grew up with at home become entwined with the hip-hop, first generation, hood stories of the world I live in outside of the house. My writing is an homage, and hopefully upliftment, of the many intersections my body houses.”
Acevedo is currently working on her third novel, Clap When You Land. The story about “sisterhood, love, and loss” will be released in 2020.