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Ibi Zoboi Takes Down “Insulting Review” Of Her New Afro-Latin YA Novel

It’s no secret that the literary canon has long been primarily dominated by white male voices. It’s why, whenever a non-white, non-cis male author gets praise and recognition, it feels like such a monumental accomplishment. Seeing women, namely women of color, achieve a large amount of success in any competitive field can be exhilarating, but in the world of literature where white men have been granted the pedestal to tell their own and often related narratives, WOC literature is truly a sight to be seen.  It’s also why it is almost as monumentally disappointing whenever an author of color receives the opposite of praise;  when the criticism granted to them is laced with erasure or racist undermining that so many of us grew up with.

Lucky for us, not every author of color is going to lay there and take the insults.

Over the weekend, Afro-Latina YA novelist Ibi Zoboi shut down a racist review that attacked her newest book.

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So pretty! Check out this giveaway from @cantstop.wontstop.reading # Repost from @cantstop.wontstop.reading “It’s a truth universally acknowledged that when rich people move into the hood, where it’s a little broken and a little bit forgotten, the first thing they want to do is clean it up .” – Ibi Zoboi, Pride • Do you like retellings?? I find that a well done retelling is wonderful, and I can’t wait to read Pride, a modern, Brooklyn based YA Pride & Prejudice retelling. • I have partnered with @epicreads to giveaway one copy of the book! ????GIVEAWAY???? Enter to win a copy of Pride – follow me, @ibizoboi @epicreads and @storygramtours . – tag a friend you think will be interested For EXTRA entry – visit @berrybookpages tomorow and repeat these steps RULES – Giveaway will end September 17th at midnight EST – US only – not affiliated with Instagram -must be 18 or have parents permission -must be a public account so I can verify entries ????Summary???? Zuri Benitez has pride. Brooklyn pride, family pride, and pride in her Afro-Latino roots. But pride might not be enough to save her rapidly gentrifying neighborhood from becoming unrecognizable. When the wealthy Darcy family moves in across the street, Zuri wants nothing to do with their two teenage sons, even as her older sister, Janae, starts to fall for the charming Ainsley. She especially can’t stand the judgmental and arrogant Darius. Yet as Zuri and Darius are forced to find common ground, their initial dislike shifts into an unexpected understanding. But with four wild sisters pulling her in different directions, cute boy Warren vying for her attention, and college applications hovering on the horizon, Zuri fights to find her place in Bushwick’s changing landscape, or lose it all. … … #pridebooktour #pride #retelling #prideandprejudice #epicreads #yacontemporary #storygramtours #bookstagram #book #bookstagrammer #booknerd #bookphotography #photooftheday #flowers #classics #booksbooksbooks #reader #PRIDEremix

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Ibi Zoboi is a Port-au-Prince, Haitian writer and Writing for Children & Young Adults MFA graduate from Vermont College of Fine Arts. In recent years her writing has been published in The New York Times Book Review and she has published a few of her own books including American Street and her most recent book Pride, which came out this month, became a National Book Award finalist. The book, a modern-day retelling of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice from an Afro-Latina’s perspective, currently holds a 3.81-star review on Goodreads. Like any book being reviewed online, it had fantastic and both not so great reviews. Still, none were quite so harsh and tone-deaf as one review that came straight out of a write-up by Wall Street Journal’s Meghan Cox Gurdon.

In one of the most egregious sections of the review, Cox Gurdon wrote: “Unlike Austen, Ms. Zoboi doesn’t write here with literary formality or what has been called classic narrative tact. For her characters, a bad attitude is ‘stank,’ a rich family is ‘bougie as hell,’ and an instant attraction is ‘you-look-so-damn-fine-that-my-eyes-are-eating-your-face-thing.’ Her heavy use of slang will undoubtedly amuse and validate those readers ages 13-17 who use it themselves, but it may otherwise limit the book’s appeal.”

It didn’t take long for Zoboi to take to Twitter and call out the racism and classism that appeared so overtly in Cox Gurdon’s review.

Taking her time to”review [Cox Gurdon’s] review as an example of the ‘classical narrative tact’ she was looking for in my book,” Zoboi called out all of the inherent racism and classism that exists Cox Gurdon’s world of  “literary formality” and “classic narrative tact.” In a series of tweets, Zoboi carefully picked apart and highlighted the ways in which the review works to disregard crucial aspects of Zoboi’s writing and the narrative of her story.

Here’s just a few of Zoboi’s well-said points:

  1. “The reviewer has intentionally erased & undermined the descriptor ‘Afro-Latin’ despite it being on the flap copy & despite its pervasive use in the media, including @WSJ.”
  2. “She uses of the word “animus” to describe the young character’s concerns for her changing community. This reveals the reviewer’s marrow-deep bigotry & a limited understanding of the valid anger & frustrations of marginalized children.”
  3. “She fails to elaborate on her definition of “literary formality” nor does she indicate exactly who has described a novel as ever having “classical narrative tact”. She may have been expecting the archaic language in Regency-era novels, or the Queen’s English itself.”

Beyond that, Zoboi goes on to call out the reviewer for using quotes that  “falsely highlight the novel’s presumed intellectual inferiority.” Zoboi goes on to say that the reviewer has “limited understanding of metaphor, wordplay, & the overall verbal ingenuity that Black children bring to the English language.”

In an age when communities of color are severely underrepresented in media, with Latinx people currently making up 17.8 percent of the U.S.’ general population but only 3.1 percent of speaking roles in television or movies, this kind of standing up for ourselves is supremely needed. Although diversity movements in publishing have been springing up lately, such as Latinx in Publishing, We Need Diverse Books, and the hashtag #OwnVoices, we still have a long way to go in terms of fair representation — and this incident between Zoboi and The Wall Street Journal review is a clear example.

As for her part, Zoboi ends her Twitter call-out by saying that she “absolutely will not be commenting on all reviews” but points to the reviewer’s “heavy use of delusional intellectual superiority” and the way it hurts “our children, many of whom are forced to bend & minimize their inherent genius to fit your idea of intelligence.”

Hear, hear!

In response to Zoboi’s tweets, her fans tweeted out their support.

Many emphasized that the poor review made them want to read the book even more.

Others were quick to point out their own frustrations with  Cox Gurdon’s review

Like does Cox Gurdon really believe Jane Austen’s books were not completely piled high with slang? Or does she think that’s just a POC thing?

Here’s hoping more publisher’s continue to embrace WOC perspectives and their words so readers and reviewers like Cox Gurdon can expand their “classical narrative tact” whatever that is.


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This Black History Month Celebrate The Legacy and Life Of Afro-Latina Reina Julia de Burgos

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This Black History Month Celebrate The Legacy and Life Of Afro-Latina Reina Julia de Burgos

Julia de Burgos is one of the most prominent Afro-Latina poets in modern history, and considered one of the most famous female poets from Puerto Rico. Her short, but prolific, life was defined by her innovative work, radical politics, volatile relationships, and personal struggles with depression and alcoholism. In honor of black history month, we give to your the story of Julia de Burgos, the Puerto Rican, Afro-Latina feminist poet who was ahead of her time.

“My childhood was all a poem in the river, and a river in the poem of my first dreams.”

Born Julia Constanza Burgos García in 1914 in Carolina, Puerto Rico, Julia de Burgos was the eldest of 13 siblings–six of whom died due to malnutrition. De Burgos was raised on a farm in extreme poverty, which influenced both her writings and her political outlook for the rest of her life.

While most female students in 1920s Puerto Rico weren’t expected to pursue higher education, the precocious and gifted de Burgos attended University High School in Rio Piedras on a full scholarship. She went on to receive a secondary education at the University of Puerto Rico, where she earned credentials to become a teacher in 1933.

“Hear the thousand laments of your children, of your soul, of your homeland demanding liberty.”

By the early 1930s, Julia de Burgos was already a published and critically acclaimed author, both as a journalist and as a poet. She released her first book of poems, “Poema en veinte surcos” (“Poem in Twenty Furrows”) in 1938. To promote the book of poems, de Burgos toured Puerto Rico,  giving readings and meeting fans. By this time, she was already deeply involved in the Puerto Rican Independence movement, serving as the Secretary General of the “Daughters of Freedom”.

“Don’t let the hand you hold hold you down.”

By the time she was 23, de Burgos was a published author, had been married, divorced, and found herself single once again. Instead of assuming the name of her ex-husband, as was conventional at the time, the feminist poet re-took her maiden name, changing it from its original iteration of “Burgos” to “de Burgos”. She did this in order to symbolically claim ownership of herself–a feat no man would ever truly be able to accomplish.

After her divorce, De Burgos embarked on a passionate love affair with Dominican physician Dr. Juan Isidro Jimenes Grullón, whom many historians recognize as the love of her life. Grullón was an intellectual from a respected family, and their relationship gained her further access into the Puerto Rican elite.

De Burgos and Grullón moved frequently as part of their nomadistic, Bohemian lifestyle. The couple spent a brief sojourn in Cuba and then moved to New York City, where de Burgos would spend the remainder of her life. Unfortunately, the relationship didn’t stand the test of time, and de Burgos and Grullón had ended their relationship by 1942. She was left alone and practically penniless in New York City.

“I am life, I am strength, I am woman.”

It was in New York City that de Burgos truly solidified her status as a literary icon, particularly in the “Nuyorican” movement–the birth of the Puerto Rican/New York City blend of cultures that would help shape the Puerto Rican expatriate community for generations . In New York City, de Burgos took odd jobs to support herself while continuing to produce trailblazing poetry. She also contributed to the Spanish-language socialist paper, “Pueblos Hispanos”, eventually becoming an editor.

While in New York, de Burgos married and divorced once more, and the failed relationship launched her into both a depression and a battle with alcoholism that would follow her to the end of her days. During this time, one of her final poems was an English-language meditation on her lifelong struggle with poverty, entitled “Farewell in Welfare Island”.

In the end, despite her talent and promising career, de Burgos died from pneumonia at the age of 39 that many believe was spurred on by her alcoholism. Tragically, there was no one available at the hospital to identify de Burgos’ body, so she was buried in an unmarked grave. Eventually, her relatives discovered her grave and her remains were sent back to home, to her beloved island of Puerto Rico.

“I am black, pure black; kinky hair and Kaffir lips; and flat Mozambican nose.”

Despite achieving middling critical and commercial success during her lifetime, de Burgos found true success years after her death, when a new class of Latinx scholars and readers discovered her work. Her poems experienced a resurgence in popularity in the ’90s, when Caribbean and Latina writers, in particular, recognized her work for its themes of colonialism, feminism, American supremacy, colorism, poverty, and Latinx identity–subjects de Burgos explored far before they hit the mainstream.

Presently, in addition to her exploration of Latinx identity, de Burgos is recognized for her ownership and celebration of her Afro-Latina roots–a stance that was just as radical in the past as it is today. At a time when anti-black racism was just as widespread and insidious in Latinidad as it was in the US, de Burgos defied convention by fully claiming her black heritage, famously writing “Ay, ay, ay, I am black, pure black; kinky hair and Kaffir’s lips; and flat Mozambican nose.”

“She had many sins because she always lived in verse/ And what you do on earth, on earth you pay for.”

Today, de Burgos receives all of the praise and accolades that she wasn’t afforded in life. In both New York City and Puerto Rico, de Burgos has had scholls , parks, libraries, and streets named in her honor. Her likeness has appeared in murals and statues across the US and Puerto Rico, and her face has graced the front of a US postage stamp.

Julia de Burgos has taken not only her place as one of the rightful members of the Latinx literary cannon, but the broader US literary cannon in general. Because of her priceless contribution to art and culture, she is immortal.


READ: 21 Things You Didn’t Know About Celia Cruz, The Indisputable Queen Of Salsa

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Latina Reads: Puerto Rican Author Lilliam Rivera Discusses Upcoming YA Latinx Feminist Novel

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Latina Reads: Puerto Rican Author Lilliam Rivera Discusses Upcoming YA Latinx Feminist Novel

Lilliam Rivera has written two novels featuring strong Latinx female characters including her latest Dealing in Dreams. The Puerto Rican YA author released The Education of Margot Sanchez in 2017, a romantic coming of age story set in South Bronx that explored family dysfunction and the importance of being true to yourself. Born in Manhattan and raised in the Bronx, Rivera penned the ode to her hometown after relocating to Los Angeles. The book was nominated for the 2017 Best Fiction for Young Adult Fiction by the Young Adult Library Services Association and Rivera has also been awarded fellowships from PEN Center USA, A Room Of Her Own Foundation, and received a grant from the Elizabeth George Foundation and the Speculative Literature Foundation.

In Dealing in Dreams, Rivera takes readers on the kind of fantasy adventure she imagines her teenage self would’ve wanted to read. The feminist dystopic novel is clearly influenced by Latinx culture following the adventures of sixteen-year-old Nalah and her all-girl crew Las Mal Criadas and her dreams of escaping Mega City to the exclusive Mega Towers. Read on to learn about the strong Latinx women in the book, why she chose to portray toxic femininity, and how immigration came into play. The book will be out March 5 and she’ll be talking at bookstores throughout the U.S.

The story focuses on an all-girl crew, can you tell me more about Las Mal Criadas and how you developed these characters?

Nalah is the sixteen-year-old leader of Las Mal Criadas, an all-girl crew who patrol the streets of Mega City. They are notoriously fierce but Nalah is wary of the violent life. She believes the way off the streets is securing a home in the exclusive Mega Towers where her leader Déesse lives. She’ll do anything to reach that goal. I wrote a draft of Dealing In Dreams six years ago and Nalah came to me first. I had just given birth to my second daughter and there were people, mostly women, who remarked how my dream of being a published author would have to be placed on hold. Rage can be a great incentive for generating art. I refuse to be pigeonholed. I wrote this draft while taking care of a newborn and I put it away for six years, workshopping a chapter here and there, until a year ago when I returned to the manuscript and still felt its relevance.

Can you describe Mega City and the Mega Towers and their significance in the story?

@lilliamr / Instagram

I based the concept of the Mega Towers on the housing projects I grew up in the South Bronx. The Twin Park West Housing Projects is a U-shaped structure connected by three buildings. With the Bronx slowly being gentrified I could just imagine how these buildings will soon be so desirable for those in power. In Dealing In Dreams, the towers are the only structure that survived the Big Shake, a man-made disaster caused by drilling. The Mega Towers is where the elite live and it’s where Nalah believes she can secure a home for her crew if she plays by this society’s rules. There are a couple of hints that Mega City is the Bronx but only a person from there would discover those Easter eggs.

The book is being described as a feminist Latinx dystopia and The Outsiders meets Mad Max so suffice it to say it’s a fierce book, how would you describe it to someone who is unfamiliar with the genre? 

I would describe Dealing In Dreams as a young adult book about a girl who grew up in a violent world and must decide if that path is truly her only salvation to a better life.

There is a very clear Latinx influence in the city and characters, why was that important to you?

@lilliamr / Instagram

I grew up reading so many science fiction and fantasy novels (Ray Bradbury, George Orwell…) and didn’t see any of my people in them. Where were the Puerto Rican girls from the Bronx crushing monsters? The same holds true of current films. I love Star Wars and have watched it hundreds of times but how amazing is it that my kids get to see Oscar Isaac being a part of the Star Wars canon? The future I envision in my novels is very brown and very black, just like my upbringing. I want to write Latinx characters that are flawed and heroic, who fall in love and discover their voice.

This is your second time writing a teenage Latinx protagonist, why is it important to you to tell these stories through the lens of a Latina?

These are the type of stories I craved for when I was young, desperately trying to connect with protagonists in novels. I think there’s more than enough room in bookstores and libraries for different Latina stories.

You take toxic masculinity and flip it to women instead, what was your intent in doing this?

There’s this great image of activist Angela Peoples taken during the Women’s March. Angela holds up a sign that reads “Don’t Forget: White Women Voted for Trump.” I thought of that image when I was rewriting the novel. I also kept thinking of how our own people will gladly throw us under the bus in order to secure a place beside someone in power. Sometimes our own family are quick to lead us to destruction. I wanted to explore those two realities in Dealing In Dreams.

What are some of the main concepts you wanted to tackle when you wrote this book and why?

I was thinking of books I’ve read that inspired me as a young person such as Anthony Burgess A Clockwork Orange and S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders. I was drawn to their violence and also to the idea of formed families. I wanted to explore this idea of blood family versus the family you create but I wanted to come from the point of view of a Latina.

The idea of finding a better home is a concept that’s all too real for many Latinx in the US, was it a conscious decision to have Nalah’s journey mirror the immigrant experience in a sense?

@lilliamr / Instagram

The quest for home is so rooted in my family’s history. My parents left Puerto Rico to find a better home in New York. Each decision they made, however hard, was made with the intention of providing us with the tools to succeed. Almost everyone who wants to enter the United States come with that hope. There’s an amazing painting by the artist Judithe Hernández titled “La Muerte De Los Inocentes” and it is of a child who clutches a ribbon that states: “We come but to dream.” I feel that painting really captures Nalah’s journey and the journey of so many who come to the U.S. searching for a better life.

There’s a lot of action in this book, what was it like writing those scenes featuring all women?

I had the best time writing those scenes! I think it’s so rare to see young women owning their strength on the page and not being afraid to use it. I love that my characters are unapologetic about it. I also didn’t want to give the reader a chance to rest, to think of putting the book down, so I tried to inject as much action as I could.

What do you want readers to take away from Dealing in Dreams?

I want readers to be transported to a place that looks at times familiar and completely new. I want Nalah, Truck, Nena and the rest of Las Mal Criadas to leave an imprint on the readers long after they read the last page.

Read: YA Writer Tehlor Kay Mejia’s Debut Fantasy Book is a Feminist Story of Forbidden Love and Oppression

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