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Q&A with Elizabeth Acevedo

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Winner of the CILIP Carnegie Medal for writing, Elizabeth Acevedo is a Dominican-American poet and author.  Born and raised in New York City, her poetry is infused with Dominican rhythm and her beloved home town’s tough grit. As a writer of poetry and fiction she is passionate about language and has over twelve years of experience performing her slam poetry. In the US, Elizabeth is a National Slam Champion and the 2016 Women of the World Poetry Slam representative for Washington, D.C, where she lives and works.

Elizabeth’s verse novel The Poet X has been described as “a magnificent work of art.” We asked her to tell us more about the book and winning the Carnegie Medal. 

Congratulations on winning the CILIP Carnegie Medal. How did it feel when they announced your name?
It was truly startling to know that I’d won this award. Past winners of this award have categorically shifted what we can accept from children’s books and I am amazed to be ranked amongst them.

The Poet X is a powerful coming-of-age story. What do you see as its key message for young people?
To be bold. To speak up. To take up space. To be their most individual selves while honoring their ferocity of spirit, and also the parts of them that are still tender.  

How much of the story of Xiomara was inspired by your own experience?
The Poet X is not autobiographical, but I will say many of the emotional truths in the story were my own. 

You’ve said that you felt an urgency to write The Poet X. What was it that compelled you to tell this story?
It felt like there was such a need to celebrate and complicate depictions of young black and brown women who want to share their voice. 

Did it feel different writing verse for a novel, as opposed to slam poetry for performing?
I find poetry is poetry, and good writing is good writing. I never sit down and think: this will be a poem for performance. It’s not until the poem is done that I know what it wants to be. I knew I wanted The Poet X to be a novel, but it wasn’t until it was done that I knew what parts of the novel held the most resonance or heightened the emotional experience for the reader. 

The Poet X gives readers a compelling insight into slam poetry as an outlet for self-expression. What advice would you give to any budding slam poets out there?
Keep writing and keep reading. Trust your voice but also remember you are walking into a conversation with other writers. 

Are you allowed to say what you’re working on next or is it top secret? 
I am currently revising my third novel, Clap When You Land. it is a dual narrative novel in verse about two girls who discover that they are half-sisters after their father dies in a plane crash. It’s a story of love, loss, and legacy and I can’t wait to keep bringing bad-ass Afro-Latinas heroines to bookshelves around the world.  

Watch Elizabeth’s inspiring acceptance speech at the Carnegie Awards here

Read our Q&A with the winner of the CILIP Kate Greenaway Award for illustration, Jackie Morris.