In the literature and library worlds, we so often speak about representation: that seeing something that reflects your own, lived, intersectional experiences matters. Books are described as mirrors or windows to understand and learn and feel seen.
We were able to see the genuine value and beauty of representation during our most recent Real Lit[erature] author talk. On January 15th, 2020, the UW Tacoma campus was lucky to host Elizabeth Acevedo via Skype, an author who has won the Carnegie Medal, the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, the Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Fiction, the Boston Globe-Hornbook Award winner, and the Pure Belpré Author Award for celebrating, affirming, and portraying Latinx culture and experience. Our co-programming with Lincoln High School, as well at The Center for Equity and Inclusion (with special visitors from Mt. Tahoma High School) had a full-house audience of close to seventy students, faculty, and staff.
We were especially excited to share campus with these amazing and energetic students. We led two campus tours to highlight some of the amazing work happening here at UW Tacoma, and are hoping we’ve inspired a few students to consider UW Tacoma in the future.
Acevedo is a slam poet, dominicana, bilingual, an advocate for young writers. From our youthful audience, she fielded questions from her stylistic choice of using haikus in the book, to her writing habits, and to how she might narrate a fight scene between characters.
What was so striking and beautiful, however, was the sincere thanks from several students who asked their questions in Spanish; fluidly, Acevedo code-switched between Spanish and English, translating to the audience as necessary. Except, of course: it wasn’t really necessary. The communication that was happening, the gratitude from one dominicana to another for creating a character she could relate to: the communication was happening just as it should have! We are so grateful to have shared this time and space with Acevedo, the librarians from Mt. Tahoma and Lincoln High, and students.
This is why we are excited to be doing the work that we do. We are thrilled that Real Lit supports the UW Libraries’ Strategic Plan, by enhancing “University initiatives focused on the success of diverse student populations” and by elevating “the voices of historically underrepresented communities at UW and in the Pacific Northwest by partnering to create, preserve and increase access to culturally-relevant information resources”.
But further, Real Lit supports our students and our broader community writ large: Acevedo is Dominican-American, and this event empowered a handful of Dominican students to say that they felt heard and represented. The book club strives to read #OwnVoices, and clearly, this is having impact.