“Why I Write”By: Margarita Engle
I write because I love to read. While I was still a small child, I listened to my Cuban mother as she read to me in English—a language that was still new to her—or Spanish, the language of her own childhood. As a recent immigrant to the U.S., she was still learning about American customs, but certain stories were universal.
Together, we cheered for ugly ducklings and pokey little puppies. Together, we enjoyed Jose Martí’s tales and rhymes. We were not limited to stories about elephants and enchanted shrimps from La Edad de Oro/The Age of Gold, because my mother also recited Martí’s poems for adults, sharing La Rosa Blanca/The White Rose, from Versos Sencillos/Simple Verses. That poem about a white rose was a rhyme that taught me about forgiveness, just as other stanzas taught:
Yo sé los nombres extraños de las yerbas y las flores/
I know the strange names of the herbs and the flowers
Con los pobres de la tierra quiero yo mi suerte echar
With the poor people of the earth I want to spend my future
And about self-expression:
Y antes de morirme quiero echar mis versos del alma
And before I die I want to pour out the verses of my soul
Soon, I was reading on my own, and writing was not far behind. Even my earliest crayon drawings included words. On a picture of a winged girl standing beneath a Cuban parrot, I wrote: ‘Turtle came to see me. ‘ I don’t know whether it was a title, a memory, or short fiction, but I do know that adding magical words to a page was as natural as adding wings to the shoulders of a girl.
Why limit myself?
If I could read, I could write.
If I could draw a mysterious world, why not tell about it too?
Poetry was my favorite form, and childhood visits to Cuba became my most beloved subject. I wrote about nature, people, and my own feelings. I experimented with haiku, free verse, and sonnets. There were no limits. Even after 1962, when U.S. citizens lost the right to travel back and forth between my mother’s small island and my own vast continent, I was able to move freely between the two, in memory and imagination.
On paper, there were no borders.
No Cold War.
No sense of loss.
On paper, I was free to love both countries, and both branches of my family. I did not have to choose.
Now, I still write because I love to read, and because I long to communicate with children who are the age I was when I was learning the value of books. I write because poems and stories nurture understanding between individuals, and between cultures. I write because no matter how old I’ve grown, words can still teach me, and words can still change our shared world.
Margarita Engle is the award-winning, Cuban-American author of many young adult novels in verse about the island, including The Surrender Tree, which received the first Newbery Honor ever awarded to a Latino/a. Other titles include The Poet Slave of Cuba, Hurricane Dancers, The Firefly Letters, Tropical Secrets, The Wild Book, and most recently, The Lightning Dreamer, about the great abolitionist/feminist poet, Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda. Please visit her at www.margaritaengle.com.
L4LL has put together a wonderful collection of Latino children’s literature to be given to a school or public library. Many of the books were donated by the authors and illustrators participating in this blog hop. You can read a complete list of titles here on the L4LL website.
To enter your school library or local library in the giveaway, simply leave a comment below.
The deadline to enter is 11:59 EST, Monday, April 29th. The winner will be chosen using Random.org and announced on the L4LL website on April 30th, Día de los Niños, Día de los Libros, and will be contacted via email – so be sure to leave a valid email address in your comment! (If we have no way to contact you, we’ll have to choose someone else!)
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