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Elizabeth Acevedo On The Fire Behind Storytelling

Elizabeth Acevedo attends an awards show in New York City.
Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images for the Audio Publisher Association
Elizabeth Acevedo attends an awards show in New York City.

“Babygirl doesn’t even cry when I suck my teeth and undo her braid for the fourth time. If anything, I’m the one on the verge of tears, since at this rate we’re both going to be late.

‘Babygirl, I’m sorry. I know it hurts. Mommy just doesn’t want you looking a hot mess.’”

That’s the opening to Elizabeth Acevedo’s new novel, With the Fire on High. It’s a rumination on young mothers, heritage and culinary arts.

Acevedo won the 2018 National Book Award for her debut young adult novel, The Poet X. The two works overlap thematically, but With the Fire on High signals a shift from verse to prose.

She told Publishers Weekly about her creative process:

For me, when I know that a story is going to be in the interiority of the character and the majority of the struggles are ones that require a more introspective-type of conflict, I want to drop readers into the characters head and verse is a great way to do that. […] I find it incredibly hard to pull off that kind of cast and that kind of narrative arc through verse because there’s a lot that you lose. For example, [verse] gives you a sense of setting, but it doesn’t give you long descriptions.

We speak with Acevedo about her new work and the state of young adult fiction.

Show produced by Jonquilyn Hill. Text by Kathryn Fink.


Elizabeth Acevedo, Poet; author, “With the Fire on High” “The Poet X”author; winner, National Book Award; @AcevedoWrites

For more, visit https://the1a.org.

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