As part of our Di-verse-ity celebration, I’d like to highlight a few verse novel authors from racially and culturally diverse backgrounds.
Nikki is African American and the author of several novels in verse including her latest WORDS WITH WINGS which was just a Coretta Scott King Author Honor book.
Here are a few words of wisdom from Nikki’s blog:
“… the next time you come across a poet who clearly demonstrates a gift for this genre, don’t tell him to hide his light under a basket. Instead, tell poets to be smart about their choice of subject, to research the market to make sure their ideas haven’t already been done, to consider the needs of school curriculum and shape their work accordingly so that their books of poetry will be as marketable as possible. Encourage them to consider narrative books in verse—novels, biographies, historical fiction, creative non-fiction”
Cuban American Margarita Engle was kind enough to blurb my book for which I am eternally grateful. She is the author of many award winning novels in verse, including the Newbery Honor book THE SURRENDER TREE and multiple Pura Belpre Honor books such as THE POET SLAVE OF CUBA and THE FIREFLY LETTERS.
“There’s something about the flow of emotions that fits the form. Free verse has a lot in common with dreaming. Things happen that aren’t expected, even by the author.”
Thanhha Lai is a Vietnam-born American writer of the children’s literature. She won the 2011 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature and a Newbery Honor for her debut novel, Inside Out & Back Again, published by HarperCollins.
Thannha made this interesting point about using verse to express the voice of someone who does not speak English:
“Right then I knew I had found the voice of a 10-year-old girl who was yanked out of her beloved home and replanted in an alien land called Alabama. She would be thinking in Vietnamese because when the story opens she has not learned English. That’s why none of the thousands of sentences I had written before rang true. When she thinks in Vietnamese, every word springs forth from images and condenses into quick, sharp phrases that capture vivid emotions. Vietnamese is a naturally lyrical, rhythmic language influenced by Chinese, which is written in characters not letters, thus lending itself to visual expressions.”
Betsy is the author of LOOKING FOR ME IN THIS GREAT BIG FAMILY, a verse novel inspired by her mother’s large Jewish family. It won cutest middle grade verse novel cover right here on this blog! Still a very cute cover, don’t you think?
Vikram Seth is a multi award winning author whose first novel, THE GOLDEN GATE, is written not just in verse but in 590 Onegin stanzas (sonnets written in iambic tetrameter, with the rhyme scheme following the unusual ababccddeffegg pattern of Eugene Onegin), which is not only insane but also bada$$. Vikram was born in India and now lives mostly in England.
I don’t think that diversity is lacking exactly in verse novels, but I would love to see more verse novels from diverse voices OUTSIDE the American experience. West Indian, Middle Eastern, African, Muslim, Hindu, South American. As I’ve said before, I know many authors from these cultures are not writing in English and verse novels do not make the most obvious translation projects, but I’d love to hear about any novels in verse from any non Anglo-American cultures.