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Words by Jessica Rodriguez

A good writer has a talent for wordsmithing ideas and telling stories. A gifted writer can elicit emotions with a single swipe of their pen or keyboard. That couldn’t be more true for poet and author Elizabeth Acevedo. The Dominican-American who hails from New York City has put her heart on a stage and page for years.

Yet, 2019 is when her hard work and opportunity made her star even brighter. Acevedo’s first novel The Poet X, about an Afro-Latina teen struggling with her identity, family and finding her voice, debuted in 2018. It became a New York Times Bestseller. It garnered numerous accolades including the National Book Award and the Pura Belpre Author Award. The most historic award came with this year’s Carnegie Medal. An award that recognizes outstanding English language books for children. She is the first writer of color and Latina to win in its 83 year history.

Giving voice to her thoughts is something Elizabeth Acevedo, 31, has done since she was a teen. On her website, she recounts that her efforts at becoming an MC led her to slam poetry. Her first competition was  at the legendary Nuyorican Poets Cafe at 14. And so began her journey as a slam poet. She eventually became a National Poetry Slam Champion. 

The poet and author has touched many nerves in several countries, across ages and languages. All thanks to her live poetry performances and Ted Talks. Google her and see her lyrical passion jump off the screen.

Not a traditional bard by any stretch of imagination. Acevedo’s work talks about everything from hair politics to racial identity to violence against women. She holds nothing back in her melodic and hip hop infused voice or lines. When opining on her African roots in her poem “Afro-Latina” she states:

“I know I come from stolen gold/from coco/from sugar cane/the children of slaves and slave masters/a beautifully tragic mixture/a sancocho of erased history.”

Although poetry is the foundation of her work, she has dedicated herself to releasing novels. First the Poet X and just this May, a second novel, With the Fire On High. The latter about a teen mother who makes magic in the kitchen. Oh and that new novel. It’s already been optioned by Picturestart for a film. Adding yet another hyphen to her occupation: screenwriter.

Her other job is educating young people. A past Teach for American corps member, she has mentored young slam poets and still teaches poetry workshops at a women’s prison in Maryland. Her ability to write for young people likely comes from insight gleaned in the classroom. “Some adults write down to young people, but, if you listen to them, they’ll tell you what they need. Oftentimes, I think they’re more able to handle difficult subjects than we give them credit for,” she told Publishers Weekly in 2018. 

Next on the horizon is her third novel, Clap When You Land, a novel about sisters from two families and connected by tragedy. Like some of her literary influencers, Lucille Clifton and Julia Alvarez among them, Acevedo lives to tell her stories, and our stories, for the world but especially those who are not seen and those coming behind.