Q & A with Margarita Engle: The Lightning Dreamer

Lightning with subtitle Margarita Engle is the Cuban-American author of The Surrender Tree, recipient of the first Newbery Honor ever awarded to a Latino/a.  Other novels in verse about the island include The Poet Slave of Cuba, Hurricane Dancers, The Firefly Letters, Tropical Secrets, The Wild Book, and most recently, The Lightning Dreamer.  Margarita has received two Pura Belpré Awards, two Pura Belpré Honors, three Américas Awards, and the Jane Addams Peace Award, among others. Her picture books for younger children include Summer Birds and When You Wander.  Margarita lives in central California, where she enjoys hiking and helping her husband with his volunteer work for various wilderness search and rescue dog programs.

What is the title of your book? The pub date and publisher? Genre? Targeted age group?

* THE LIGHTNING DREAMER, Cuba’s Greatest Abolitionist

Harcourt, March, 2013

Young Adult novel in verse

ages 10 and up

Where is it set?

* nineteenth century Cuba

In 70 words or less, provide a succinct plot description of your story.

* Tula’s mother thinks reading and writing are unladylike, so she has to write her poems and stories in secret, and then burn them.  Her only escape from this restriction is a theater for orphans, which she is allowed to develop and direct as a charitable work.  When the time comes for her to be married off to a rich man, she rebels, and is punished by being banished to a plantation, where she meets the freed slave who inspires her future as a groundbreaking abolitionist/feminist writer.

Starred reviews or blurbs:

*Booklist starred review by Michael Cart

images-3How are you connected to the setting of your story?

* My mother is from Cuba.  As a child, I spent summers visiting her extended family.  I developed a lifelong passion for the island’s tropical nature, culture, and history.  As an adult, I have been able to return, and re-connect with my relatives.

What inspired you to write this story?

*I admire the courage of Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda (Tula), and hope she will be rediscovered by history.

What was the biggest challenge you had writing your story? How did you overcome it?

*Research!  It was difficult to find details about Tula’s childhood.

I used interlibrary loan, and when I couldn’t find documents, I imagined certain details.

What kind of story can we expect next from you? Is it set outside of the United States? If so, where? And what is it about?

*SILVER PEOPLE, Voices From the Panama Canal, Harcourt, March, 2014.

What else would you like us to know about you or your story?

*THE LIGHTNING DREAMER is dedicated to young writers in search of words.

Can you remember the first book that made an impact on you? And why?

*The Black Stallion, for its spirit of adventure, and Island of the Blue Dolphins, for its historical value.

Click here to learn more.

Thank you for joining us Margarita Engle! We look forward to more interviews with you.


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