“I think sometimes kids believe that authors have some sort of spectacular life, but they don’t realize that they already have everything they need to be writers,” said Meg Medina award-winning, Cuban-American writer of young adult fiction and recipient of the Pura Belpré medal and CYBILS Fiction winner.
Medina was invited to facilitate a literature day at Tree of Life Preparatory School (Fredericksburg, Va.), after teachers, Becky Durichek and Janet Armstrong met Medina at a writer’s course at Shenandoah University. “When we heard her, we felt like she could connect the students, build bridges and help us all understand each other better,” explained Durichek. “Meg said that since she was among the first generation in her family to be raised here, she sometimes felt like the interpreter of America for her parents. I can see that in some of our kids.” With an increasing Hispanic population in the surrounding area, teachers see the necessity in bridging gaps in their classrooms and among their students.
Medina says a reigning conversation in literature is the fact that most books are written by Caucasian authors and feature Caucasian characters. “But that’s not who’s in the seats,” she says, “causing a big disconnect for students. The big issue is invisibility in the literature and the reader’s sense of self. I was in college before I saw a Latina in the pages of a book. I remember the feeling of seeing people like my family and being shocked. I don’t want anyone to have to wait until college.”
During the day at TLC Prep, in which students from Manassas Preparatory School (Va.), joined them Medina shared stories from her childhood that she’s used as inspiration for her writings. She read two of her picture books, Mango, Abuela and Me and Tia Isa Wants a Car and asked students to compare the real story with the written story and discuss the differences.
Later, Medina walked upper grade students through a writing workshop, where they were encouraged to write about any memory that came to mind. “This is a surprising prompt for most kids,” said Medina. “But it shows them how to use memory to create something that connects with the reader.” Medina started her career as a teacher and says her passion is still connecting with children in classroom settings with the goal of demystifying the process of writing. “In school, writing is often whittled down to the topic and supporting sentences –or those infernal little circles with the sticks coming out of it. I can tell you, not a single writer uses that. I want to tell teachers to stop the madness, that’s now how we write! I want to show students how joyous and how natural writing is.”
Student, Jennifer Pena, says the number one thing she learned is to be yourself, write about what you want and be happy with that. Emily Gutierrez, student, agreed and says she hopes to be an author like Medina one day. “I learned that stories don’t have to be perfect, you can take anything from your past, put it into a book, and it can be inspiring. When I grew up, I hope to be an author like her.”