In celebration of Elizabeth Acevedo’s incredible Carnegie Medal win, we’d like to share her bold, timely and touching winner’s speech, complete with an original poem.
I am so honoured to be receiving the Carnegie Award. I want to give thanks to my agents at Right People, who believed in my voice and have done such amazing work to bring my stories to a global market.
Thank you to the team at Egmont- Electric Monkey for bringing The Poet X to readers in the UK.
I want to tell you a bit about the impetus for this novel.
I was an eighth grade English teacher in Prince George’s County, Maryland, when I began writing The Poet X. And the impetus came from a student I had who I loved.
She was slick at the mouth and always had something smart to say, and on the inside I would be laughing even as I had to remind her certain things were inappropriate. But I always appreciated her honesty.
This student did not consider herself a reader.
And I tried to put every exciting book at the time into her hands but she had no interest in sparkly vampires or teens playing survival games. Finally, I asked her, ‘What would you like to read?’ And her reply took me aback. She said, ‘None of these books are about us. Where are the books about us?’
So, I went out and bought books by Jacqueline Woodson, Sandra Cisneros, Julia Alvarez. Whatever I could get my hands on that seemed to reflect this ‘us’ my student wanted to see: young, urban, characters of colour. Within two weeks this student who was not a reader had sped through every book I put in front of her. And the she asked me ‘What’s next?’
These two questions guided me towards writing The Poet X.
Where are the books about us? What’s next?
I felt like this student had given me a challenge, or at least permission to grab the baton. She gave me permission to write a story about young people who take up space, who do not make themselves small, who learn the power of their own words.
I want to close with a poem. Because I think we should have poetry in every room as much as possible, and because I fundamentally believe in Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop’s words that children’s literature should be a mirror and a window.
This is for us writers, us readers, us girls
who never saw ourselves on bookshelves,
but were still writing poems when we talked.
& we been called teeth-sucking of snapping eyes
born bitter brittle of tangled tongues
sandpaper that’s been origamied into girls.
Not worthy of being the hero nor the author.
But we were always Medusa’s favorite daughters.
Of serpent curls, of hard-eye looks.
Dreaming in the foreshadows: we composed ourselves.
Since childhood, taking pens to palms
as if we could rewrite the stanzas of lifelines
that tried to tell us we would never amount to much.
And when we were relegated to the margins:
We still danced bachata in the footnotes,
we still clawed our way onto the covers.
Brought our full selves to the page: our every color palate
and bouquet of pansies, of gold hoops, of these here hips
& smart-ass quips & popping bubblegum kisses.
Us girls, who never saw ourselves on bookshelves,
but were still writing tales in the dark.
Us black & brown girls: brick-built:
masters of every metaphor and every metamorphosis:
catch us with fresh manicures
nail-filing down obsidian stones and painstakingly crafting our own
mirrors & stories into existence.
You can also watch Elizabeth Acevedo’s speech below and on Youtube.