Newbery Medal winner and New York Times bestselling author Matt de la Peña said he knew he wanted to participate in Lacey Loves to Read after talking about it to his friend Kwame Alexander, who was featured author for last year’s communitywide literacy event.
“Authors talk, and when I found out that I might be going to Lacey, and I saw that he had been there, I asked him (about his experience),” de la Peña said. “And he immediately said, ‘Oh man, jump on that, you’ll have the best time. It’s a great event.’”
De la Peña, 41, who received the 2016 Newbery Award for the picture book “Last Stop on Market Street” and has written six young-adult novels, will participate in a Meet the Author event 6-8 p.m. Feb. 16 at Lacey Community Center, 6729 Pacific Ave. SE.
In its 14th year, Lacey Loves to Read is a monthlong literacy event that encourages people of all ages to read books by the same author during February. This year’s effort is a partnership between North Thurston Public Schools, Lacey Timberland Regional Library, the city of Lacey and the Lacey South Sound Chamber.
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On Thursday, de la Peña did a phone interview with The Olympian from the campus of San Diego State University, where he’s a guest professor this semester in the creative writing program.
Here are excerpts of the conversation.
Q: What do you plan to talk about during the Meet the Author event in Lacey?
A: Well, I usually kind of get into my own path to literacy and how much it changed my life and how much it sort of opened up my world.
With the younger kids, I talk a lot about seeing the beautiful in the world and witnessing what’s beautiful. Things are really crazy right now politically, so I think it’s really important to talk about being a witness for what’s beautiful, kind of celebrating diversity, as well.
And I’ll probably concentrate a little bit on the book “Last Stop on Market Street,” to give some behind-the-scenes stuff about the book: where it came from, what it means to me, and also just the creative process about working with an illustrator, coming up with something in your imagination, and then how long it takes for it to become an actual book that you can buy at the store.
Q: How did you get into writing?
A: Well, I always was the kind of kid who sort of wrote spoken word-style poems, slam poetry, that I never showed to anybody. I did it all through high school, kind of secretly.
In my world, it wasn’t cool to write or cool to read, so I sort of sneaked my writing. And then I went to college and I was exposed to great books that kind of hit home for me. Diverse books especially.
I became a huge reader early in college, and I started to dream about maybe writing a book of my own one day.
Q: What was it like when you found out you won the Newbery Medal?
A: First of all, if you go into this world sort of expecting to win awards, you’re a crazy person because it’s just so subjective. Whoever the judges are, it’s purely their taste.
When you write a picture book, you don’t pay attention to the Newbery announcements, thinking, ‘Hey I wonder if I’ll win?’ It was completely shocking.
But in a way, I think it was one of the more validating moments in my writing career just because somebody is telling you that what you did is being recognized by people who are paid to be judges of literature.
And in a strange way, it felt like a moment of forgiveness, and what I mean by that is, when you set out to write a book, you have these grand ideas of what it could be and every single book you write fails to live up to what you thought it could be because that’s just the nature of art.
But when somebody gives you an award like that, it’s almost like they’re saying, “We forgive you for the mistakes. We still think it’s good enough.”
Q: Who are your favorite authors?
A: My favorite writer is Cormac McCarthy who wrote “The Road” and “No Country For Old Men.”
Some other people I really admire: Gary Schmidt, Christopher Paul Curtis, Jacqueline Woodson, and then I’m a huge fan of some illustrators because I have a 2 1/2-year old, so I read a lot of picture books with her. So I think Christian Robinson, who actually did the illustrations for “Last Stop on Market Street,” he’s one of my favorite illustrators, and a guy named Loren Long. And Kate DiCamillo is, I think, still to me, one of the greatest children’s writers ever.
Q: What’s on your bookshelf right now, or what have you been reading?
A: I just read a biography of Kobe Bryant. I just read “The Underground Railroad” by Colson Whitehead. And I just read an incredible memoir (by Hope Jahren) called “Lab Girl,” about a female scientist.
I’m really into female empowering books right now, just because I have a daughter and I’m trying to figure out how to teach her how she can take over the world.
Q: What’s your advice for people who want to write as a profession or become an author?
A: I think the biggest thing is to talk less and listen more. There are incredible stories all around us everywhere, including in your own life, and if you spend time just listening or watching, you’ll see the stories. But if you’re talking and trying to be right about things, then the stories become harder to see. The biggest thing is to listen and watch the world, and also read — read everything you can.
Q: How long does it take you to finish a book? Can you give us a little insight into the working life of an author?
A: Sure. So I write two different kinds of books. I write novels, which are closer to 300 pages, and I write picture books, which are only like 800 words. Picture books usually take me like five or six months, and, obviously, most of that is just revising. I work the words again and again and again, until I feel the music is right.
A novel usually takes me a little over a year.
And I’m a big reviser. Most of my work is heavily, heavily revised.
Q: What’s your advice for families with reluctant readers?
A: If a kid loves sports, let them read something that’s about basketball or sports. I think that type of reading is just as valid in many cases as reading classic literature.
Also it’s showing a kid that they can read the world, and eventually they’re going to find their way to books. But I think it has to be the kind of experience where they think they’re steering the ship.
Comic books, graphic novels — I just think that reading is super, super valid, too. And if a kid wants to read that kind of stuff, then I think it should be encouraged more than anything else.
If you go
Lacey Loves to Read’s featured author Matt de la Peña will participate in a Meet the Author event from 6-8 p.m. Feb. 16 at the Lacey Community Center, 6729 Pacific Ave. SE. For more information, go to nthurston.k12.wa.us/read.