Please tell us about your latest book, Enchanted Air.
Thank you for your interest! Enchanted Air, Two Cultures, Two Wings, is a verse memoir. In one sense it’s a travel book about the unusual experience of visiting relatives in Cuba during the Cold War. On another level, it’s simply about being bicultural, an experience shared by so many U.S. Latino children. I wrote this memoir as a plea for peace and family reconciliation, a process which quite amazingly began on December 17, 2014, during the same week when advanced review copies of Enchanted Air arrived on my doorstep! Of course, I rushed to revise the historical note to include President Obama’s announcement about the renewal of U.S.-Cuba diplomatic relations, changing my tone from a desperate plea to a song of gratitude.
There have been a number of verse memoirs published the last few years. Could you explain how you decided to use verse for your memoir? What does verse offer that prose doesn’t?
While I was writing Enchanted Air, I had no idea that Jacqueline Woodson and Marilyn Nelson were also working on their own verse memoirs! I was familiar with wonderful older verse memoirs by Lee Bennett Hopkins and a few others, but basically I expected Enchanted Air to languish alone on a librarian’s cart, with no one quite sure where to shelve it. Now, thanks to Brown Girl Dreaming’s National Book Award, I think verse memoirs will suddenly find their own place in the world. I chose poetry because free verse allowed me to transform memories into present tense, bringing childhood emotions back to life.
Already, Enchanted Air has garnered enormous praise. It’s a Junior Library Guild title and has earned three starred reviews. Your other books have won such prestigious awards as the Pura Belpré Medal, the Claudia Lewis Award, the Newbery Honor, the International Reading Association’s Children’s Book Award, the Américas Award, the Jane Addams Award, and the Lee Bennett Hopkins Honor, just to name a few.
How have you learned to deal with such acclaim? How do you set the possible pressure of such praise aside when working on something new?
Acclaim is wonderful when it happens, but life keeps me humble. I still receive plenty of manuscript rejections, especially for my biographical picture books about great Latino scientists who have been forgotten by history. As far as pressure, there’s nothing I can do to influence grownup reviewers and award committee members. All I can do is write from the heart, picturing my readers as children.
This is your fourth book to release this year. How do you handle the juggle while continuing to work on new projects?
Three picture books—Drum Dream Girl, Orangutanka, and The Sky Painter—were released within weeks of each other by sheer coincidence. I wrote them all in different years, but publication coincided simply because the illustration and book design process is so much slower and less predictable than the writing. Now I’m back to working on historical verse novels, with only an occasional burst of inspiration leading to another picture book idea.
Learn more about Margarita and her books at www.margaritaengle.com.