Author Elizabeth Acevedo Promotes New Book at Yorktown


Molly Kaplow and Whitney Critchfield, Sentry Staff Reporter

New York City native Elizabeth Acevedo is a passionate and lively author who came to our school on December 4. During her visit, Acevedo spoke about her journey as a writer, promoted her latest book, With the Fire on High and signed copies for her young fans. 

Acevedo began her book talk with a Lucille Clifton quote that she believed embodied her writing. 

“I think that we’re beginning to remember that the first poets didn’t come out of the classroom, that poetry began when somebody walked off of a savanna, out of a cave, looked up at the sky with wonder and said ‘ahh.’ That was the first poem,” Acevedo said.

As part of her personal story, Acevedo explained her difficult childhood in Harlem. She began storytelling at a young age and due to her community roots, she found a way to express these stories through hip-hop music. 

“I had been rapping … that was where I thought a storyteller like me could find their way, so I was really into hip-hop,” Acevedo said. 

After a school club exposed Acevedo to poetry, she was hooked. Acevedo’s teacher entered her in a local Poetry slam hosted by rapper Kanye West, and she advanced to the final round of the competition. 

“It was rewarding to finally be able to stand on a stage on my own terms … and say ‘I want you to hear and see me for what I want you to hear and see me for, and not the expectations you put upon me,’” Acevedo said. 

Acevedo also used her poetry success as a teenager to send an encouraging message to the young members of the audience.

“Every major movement in this country, the catalyst was young people … [and] whatever passion, … talent … [or] thing you are interested in right now, I hope that you spend time with it, whether or not it becomes your profession,” Acevedo said. 

She went on to speak about her experience as the only Afro-Latina woman in her graduate school literature classes at the University of Maryland. She felt that throughout her educational career, she was stereotyped and held to different standards because of her race.

“I felt [that] growing up, because of the stereotypes that are pressed on a body like mine, I wasn’t allowed to be the ignorant one in the room. I was taught that I had to be excellent [and knowledgeable] at all times,” Acevedo said.

As a result of the impact this situation had on her life, she wanted to write books that acted as a mirror to those going through the same experience. 

“Every single one of [my books] has a person of color on the cover. [There used to be a misconception that] white people don’t read books that don’t have people like them on the cover … and that people of color don’t read books at all,” Acevedo said.

When writing With the Fire on High, she took into consideration what minorities would like to see in a book. She addressed the problems people of color face on a day-to-day basis, as well as problems teenagers encounter. Her passion for writing young adult novels focusing on minorities sprung from one of her students while she was a teacher at Buck Lodge Middle School in Adelphi, Maryland. 

With the Fire on High follows the story of a senior in high school, Emoni, who is raising her two-year-old daughter Emma. Emoni chose to name her daughter Emma, contrary to the father’s wishes, because she believed the name would be one fewer issue that her daughter would have to face. 

“I know a name alone can’t guarantee new opportunities, but at the very least it’ll give her a chance to get in the room,” (With The Fire On High, page 10).

Emoni also uses her passion of cooking to successfully raise money for her  culinary class trip to Seville, Spain. The story outlines the teen finding her true passions while also dealing with the hardships and beauty of high school life. 

Acevedo concluded her speech with a positive message to her young fans. 

“The ideas and stories that you have right now are good enough. They are things … that you can work toward right now,” Acevedo said.