Literary Festivals In The Time of COVID

Literary festivals have long been considered a bastion of in-person connection for fans, authors, and publishing houses, but what do they look like in the new virtual world of COVID? The largest book festival in the world, the Edinburgh Book Festival, wrapped up their digital event at the end of August with the intent to “Keep the Conversation Going.” Implementing their first-ever virtual event, the festival drew in hundreds of thousands of viewers in the midst of the global pandemic. Nick Barley, Director of the Edinburgh International Book Festival, said in a recent article, “While an online Festival cannot recreate the joyous coming together of authors and audiences, the cultural exchange and the stimulation of creativity that a gathering of people in one physical space can bring, I believe we have created something very special this year. It is clear from watching the interaction of authors and audiences that this year’s online Book Festival has generated its own sense of community.” Not shying away from the difficulties posed in moving to a completely digital format, Barley went on to say, “I am extraordinarily proud of the team who have turned themselves inside out, learned new skills and a completely new way of working to deliver events, in challenging circumstances, which have been warm, engaging, stimulating, entertaining and technically excellent. We have reached corners of the globe, and corners of Scotland, that we have never reached before, and brought an accessibility to the Festival that I never want to lose.” With over two hundred thousand views, more people were able to virtually attend from all over the globe without the cost-prohibitive travel often associated with in-person attendance. Another compelling element to the Festival was that all events in the Festival were free, which opened up accessibility in a way that has never happened before. Director Barley stated, “It is thanks to our incredibly generous funders, sponsors, benefactors and donors that we have been able to offer all events in the Book Festival for free this year—now the hard work starts to develop a financially stable model for a hybrid festival of live and online events for the future.” This seems to be the way of the future, with companies looking to expand the ways that they can reach more people, not just in-person, but online as well. While the publishing industry and the world-at-large remain hopeful, no one can predict whether or not in-person events like book festivals and fairs will return to some level of normalcy in 2021. If not, a commitment to innovation and creating new models for reaching an even greater audience in a virtual setting has already been established. In keeping with Edinburgh’s Book Festival philosophy, “you can’t keep a good Festival down.”

Publishing in the Age of Visual Content

According to Bradley Wilson, consumers from the Gen Z population are more attracted to interactive and visual content. With shorter attention spans and the need for more stimulating content, this generation presents a unique challenge when it comes to not only capturing their attention, but also their loyalty. According to a recent study, Americans spend an average of six hours per day consuming digital media, while only eight minutes a day is spent on reading, and these findings skew even more when it comes to Gen Z consumers. This new generation also has a need for “mobile-friendly communication.” This can prove problematic if publishing companies continue with traditional modes of advertising, because Gen Z has indicated a preference for more personalized messaging and the ability to connect with brands through word of mouth and influencers. Publishers are reaching a point where they need to start rethinking the way they deliver and market their stories, because it’s important to provide consumers with material in the ways that they consume them.
One way publishers are doing this is with the use of visuals novels, which are defined by Cecil Choi as “text-based stories told in a digital medium, often accompanied by relevant visuals and/or audio.” This offers publishers a way to merge the digital and visual needs of this generation with the stories they are already producing.
Surges in the popularity of story-based apps is something that the industry should be closely monitoring. For example, a popular app that was designed specifically to market an already-produced television show is called Love Island: The Game. Based on the popular British reality television show that shares its name, this app is written with the arc of an entire season of the show in mind. Drawing on plot lines from the show itself, writers developed a story that readers were then able to play out. The game has been a highly successful marketing tool for the show, and has spawned an online community of readers who have created more buzz on social media through sites such as Twitter, Tumblr, and Reddit. This is important because relationships that are formed on social media “have become a central life aspect” for Gen Z. There is so much untapped potential in the publishing industry for expanding into this market, and it is something that I feel publishing companies should strongly consider if they want to keep the attention of Gen Z while also redefining their own interactive digital marketing.
Marketing a novel using these avenues has the potential to be incredibly beneficial to publishers. It gives readers a chance to develop more interest and hold more stake in the success of the novel, since they are allowed to insert themselves and interact with the story in a way that they can’t with traditional publishing. This is a strategy that can be used to make backlist titles relevant and timely again; there is also potential to merge graphic novels with this visual formatting.
All in all, I believe that it offers incredible value for both designers and marketers. These apps are not only successful in that they are popular with Gen Z, but they are also lucrative. Many times these apps have the option to “buy in-game currency” (such as “gems” or “diamonds”) that lets readers make different choices or gives them the option to not have to wait until their “lives” are back in order to keep reading. This could potentially replicate the success that the industry has recently seen with new formats such as audiobooks, which saw a surge of “thirty-three percent last year,” and it is helping to keep the digital business of book publishing profitable. Because this is something that gaming and design companies seem to have a monopoly on at the moment, a partnership with one of these companies might be recommended for now.

Diversifying My Bookshelf

You may have asked yourself if it’s possible for one person to amplify the voices of underrepresented authors. The answer is yes! We can create diversity within our own bookshelves by analyzing our book-buying habits, which will help amplify these voices. I’m a firm believer that money can talk (metaphorically speaking), so when we put our money forward in support of underrepresented voices, these voices are amplified. By carefully examining our reading habits, book-buying habits, and curating our bookshelves as an act of intention, we can amplify these voices.
But this requires effort from each of us. As publishing professionals, it’s not only our job to create diversity within publishing houses, but also create diversity within our own bookshelves. A few years ago, this wasn’t even a blip on my radar. I would read what was in front of me and buy from my usual places. I wasn’t thinking about my reading habits or my book-buying habits. Now, instead of buying from Amazon and other big box stores, I look on Bookshop or seek out Black-owned bookstores, and I read books on anti-racism and search for books from diverse authors and perspectives.
In doing so, I have discovered an incredibly beautiful, diverse world that I was unaware of because it wasn’t what was right in front of me. I had to seek it out. 2020 has given many like myself the opportunity to look and seek it out.
As the world shut down because of the pandemic and the largest social justice movement in history expanded, seismic shifts were—and still are—felt on a collective level that was not previously acknowledged. Publishing companies have created imprints that focus on stories written by BIPOC authors, and they have also put people in positions to run these imprints in a way that is representative of the stories that need to be told and the readers who need to be reached.
Don’t get me wrong, I love a good Tolkien or Neil Gaiman book, but if I don’t start reading and buying books that are outside of my own interests, nothing will change. The little changes that we make as individuals can ripple out and have a greater impact than we realize. One or two people making these changes will have a smaller impact, but when thousands of people start making conscious choices based on their own habits, the ability to amplify the voices of underrepresented authors can become quite large.
Authors like Dr. Ibram X. Kendi are penning best sellers about anti-racism and Black history in America. Books like these are able to come to the forefront because individuals are actually looking at what they are reading and the books they are buying, and they are making a conscious effort to choose otherwise. We are hardly there, and we have a long way to go, but the diversity seen and felt over the last year seems to be a step in the right direction.

Are the Big Five Backing Up Their 2020 Promises?

Between the outrage over American Dirt, Woody Allen’s Apropos of Nothing, the murder of George Floyd, the Black Lives Matter movement, and #publishingpaidme, there has been tremendous pressure on the Big Five to do their part to decolonize book publishing. As a show of good faith, each of the Big Five publishing houses made public promises to be more socially conscious. We are now well into 2021, which is heralded as the year that is meant to save us from the horrors of 2020, so let’s see if the Big Five have made any progress on following through with their promises.
In the second half of 2020, both Hatchette Book Group and Penguin Random House reviewed their hiring practices and analyzed the diversity of their staff. Both houses claim to have plans to hire more BIPOC professionals and publish more books by people of color.
Hatchette also created a BIPOC specific imprint called Legacy Lit, which is headed by Krishan Trotman, a Black woman.
Simon & Schuster began the new year by canceling Senator Josh Hawley’s book, The Tyranny of Big Tech, following the Senator’s support of unsubstantiated claims that the November election was illegitimate. The day after the attacks on the capitol, the publishing house announced that they were pulling the book, claiming that Hawley’s dangerous rhetoric was a threat to democracy.
Then on January 14, Simon & Schuster announced a two-book deal for Black journalist Errin Haines, whose books will detail the role of Black women in politics. Haines is currently editor-at-large for The 19th, a “non-profit, non-partisan newsroom reporting on gender, politics, and policy.”
Simon & Schuster also hired Dana Canedy, a Black woman, as publisher of its adult publishing group.
Not bad, Simon & Schuster, not bad.
HarperCollins recently announced that their minimum salary will increase to $45,000 for employees in New York City and San Francisco. This should probably be implemented throughout the world, but it’s a start. Now, if we could just get them to increase advances for BIPOC authors as well.
It’s noteworthy to point out that the hiring page for HarperCollins internships now says that they are searching for candidates from traditionally underrepresented groups. It is difficult to say if this is simply a boilerplate addition to the job posting that was made in order to cover some diversity quota or if it is a true effort to diversify hiring.
A quick glance at the top five books on the New York Times Best-Seller list reveals that not much has changed in regard to BIPOC authors. Former President Barack Obama is holding strong at number one on the nonfiction list, followed by Isabel Wilkerson’s Caste at number five, and Brit Bennett’s The Vanishing Half, which is number four on the fiction list.
Hopefully, we will not only see more BIPOC authors at the top of these lists but also more book deals—and bigger advances— for these authors from the Big Five.
It’s great to see initial progress being made, but there is one thing that publishers haven’t touched in an effort to be more socially conscious: ebook price fixing. On January 14, the Big Five and Amazon were accused of ebook price fixing. The suit, which was filed in a New York district court, alleges that Amazon and the Big Five agreed to keep prices artificially high for other ebook sellers so that consumers will be more inclined to buy their ebooks from Amazon.
Just when it looked like the Big Five were actually trying to be socially conscious, capitalism once again reared its ugly head.
There are definitely some good starts here, and I hope that the Big Five continue making improvements to support BIPOC authors and their employees and using their platforms for good. While it is too early in the year to tell how the rest of 2021 will play out, here is hoping that diversity continues to be a priority.

From Fanfiction to Publishing

Have you ever been so engrossed in a book series that you just had to continue the story beyond the pages? If so, then you are not alone! Before the internet, members of the Star Trek fandom would write fanfiction to send to their friends and pass out at fan conventions. This phenomenon has been around for quite some time, and it continues to grow in popularity as more and more fandoms are created.

I have been reading and writing fanfiction since I was thirteen, and it’s something that I have continued doing as an adult. For many of us who are prolific readers, the book doesn’t just stop on the last page; its world goes deeper than what is written in the pages of the book. As fans of both the world and the characters, we want the legacy of the series to continue long after the series ends. This mindset can not only get you started on the path to writing your own works of fiction, but it can also allow you the opportunity to edit new works by different authors before they get out into the world.

Cassandra Clare, author of the well-known series, The Mortal Instruments, got her career started by writing Harry Potter fanfiction. (If you’d like to check out her current fiction, you can do so on her website). You have to start somewhere, right?

Creating fanfiction is a great place to start writing. You can get feedback from the community, practice developing characters, and delve deeper into a world that you already love. It’s a great way to hone your craft from the very beginning, in a safe and welcoming environment. I’ve even seen fanfiction authors who have created their own characters that fit into the world of the original book.

Many fanfiction authors even have what they call beta-readers, who essentially act as editors to help with organization, plot, world-building, character development, and more. Some fanfiction authors even have people who create custom artwork for their stories! There are so many elements that go into the development of fanfiction that it’s almost a microcosm of the publishing industry.

Many people automatically equate publishing with editing, which isn’t necessarily the case. While it is true that editing is a crucial aspect of publishing, it isn’t the only aspect. If you enjoy reading and contributing to the numerous (and usually hilarious) tags on AO3 and Fanfiction.net, then search engine optimization (SEO) and social media work might be a great option for you to pursue. Do you love art and design? Then you can work in a design department creating book covers and art for the interior of books. If you are fascinated by computers and coding, then you can work in the relatively new and evolving field of ebooks and audiobooks. The publishing industry has a place for every bibliophile out there—even fanfiction writers. The best part? You are getting paid to do it ! My advice to you is to keep calm, follow your dreams, and write fanfiction!

Wattpad in Publishing: Where It’s Been and Where It’s Going

Wattpad is an online platform for writers from all communities to post user-generated stories. What started as a public book domain quickly took the world by storm in 2011 when it hit one million users. Now, Wattpad Studios is merging with the entertainment industry to produce Wattpad stories for print and film.
The original idea behind the platform was to create a space for readers to come together to read and discuss a variety of novels from all over the world. Ivan Yuen, one of the creators of Wattpad alongside Allen Lau, said, “before the iPhone, before Kindle and before the rise of ebooks and self publishing, there was Wattpad.” Wattpad was built on the idea of creating free novels to share with the world and allowing people everywhere the opportunity to communicate about books.
Now, Wattpad Premium has joined the initiative as “an enhanced, subscription-based version of Wattpad” that highlights an ad-free space. Other perks of Premium include the ability to download stories when the user is offline, receiving bonus coins when purchasing a coin package, and customizable Wattpad themes. The idea that Wattpad is free and accessible for everyone has been extremely appealing to users since it first launched, and now my question is why? The founders of the website believe the better question to ask is how do we create a program that still “monetarily supports writers”?
The answer is simple: the Watty Awards. Through a lengthy judging system that not only takes into account fanbase, but also has specific teams that analyze the success of a story, the Watty Awards are titles and prizes that stories win based on different categories and genres.The Watty Awards have developed hand-in-hand with Wattpad Next—the newest name for the Paid Stories Program—and Wattpad Studios, the entertainment imprint of the company. Now, in addition to claiming victory of a Watty Award, these writers also qualify for payment, publication with Wattpad Books, and the possibility of a screen adaptation with Wattpad Studios.
Allen Lau wrote a blog post in 2016 called “The Master Plan,” where he outlined Wattpad’s once simple plan to revolutionize how society connects through stories. He goes on to talk about how even though reading has grown as an experience over the years “at its core, Wattpad is more than reading and writing—it’s entertainment,” thus promoting the newest branch of their company, Wattpad Studios, led by Aron Levitz.
One thing Wattpad consistently advocates for is the importance of storytelling. With the help of their Story DNA Machines and Story Insights, Levitz believes that they will be able to “easily spot the voices that resonate with audiences around the world and the stories that have an established fan base. Wattpad Studios will help industry executives make smarter decisions, faster.” This idea ties into another one of the company’s goals: to take the least amount of risk that they can. Wattpad Studios has different divisions within it—Wattpad Stars, Wattpad Words, Wattpad Presents, and Wattpad Insights—and each imprint focuses on their own initiatives, ranging from connecting to publishers and network producers, to utilizing their already successful writers and discovering the next best writer with trend reports. Lau thinks that Wattpad Studios as a whole “will also help shape the future of community and data-driven entertainment,” furthering the influence that the company currently holds, and has the possibility of holding, against traditional publishers and film production companies.
With all of the different imprints and visions that make Wattpad what it is, the Wattpad website decided to change its slogan from “Stories You’ll Love” to “Where Stories Live” in March 2019, therefore furthering their growing grasp on the idea of storytelling.What once started as a public book domain soon turned into a multi-media, world-building phenomenon.

Getting Real About Fictional Languages

Many sci-fi and fantasy stories center around characters who do not speak a language currently found on Earth. Some authors choose to bypass these foreign languages by employing some form of translation technology or magic, but many prefer to have their characters speak in their native tongues. Some of the most famous examples of this include The Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones. While Tolkien was basically a linguist (in his time it was known as philology), and therefore had the capacity to create full, rich languages for his books, Martin made up words that sounded nice at the time, but which were not part of the larger structure. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but when we examine the fans of The Lord of the Rings, one of their favorite pastimes is learning, writing, and even speaking Elven. This has led to the creation of other books that center around the languages used in these worlds, like Na’vi and Klingon. These examples help show why a fully fleshed-out language, often known as a “conlang,” is good for the fans, the author, and the publisher, and why authors should work with a conlanger.
One important thing to note is that a conlanger and a linguist are different, though they often overlap. David J. Peterson is probably the most famous example of this. He has an M.A. in Linguistics from the University of San Diego and is famous for his work on Dothraki for the Game of Thrones TV series. While not every conlanger has a linguistics background, all of them share a great passion for language.
With any professional partnership, you want to make sure your conlanger is someone that you are comfortable working with. You want to look for someone who is willing to show you a sample of their work, and then ask yourself a few questions: Do you like the sounds that they use? Do you like the languages they came up with? Do you think that you can work together to get the sound you’re looking for?
It’s also important to consider your audience. To native English speakers, Dothraki can sound harsh and intimidating, but it might sound pretty and sweet to someone whose native language contains similar sounds and inflections. A skilled conlanger will help you figure out the specific sounds you want for your language.
Creating a fictional language is much easier to do while the book is still being written or before there are solid decisions about the languages. David Peterson talks about his experience working with Dothraki in his book The Art of Language Invention, specifically the work he had to do with finding and analyzing the fifty-six Dothraki words and names that already existed in the first three books. It’s quite a challenge when the author is looking for a specific sound, but has already created words that may not fit in with the finished project.
So how do you go about hiring someone to create a language for your book? My first recommendation is the job board on the Language Creation Society website; the LCS is a membership-based community of conlangers based out of U.C. Berkeley whose president is none other than David Peterson. You could also look at the conlang page on reddit to see if any conlang authors are interested in working with you. If neither of these places speak to you, you can always post on Craigslist or a similar job board.
While there isn’t a one-stop shop for hiring a conlanger, I believe it is worth the effort to find someone with the skills and knowledge to make your world feel a bit more full and rich, which is a huge benefit when it comes to future publishing perspectives. Conlangers are a professional resource that authors can use to increase the value of the product they’re creating, so I encourage authors to use them to their fullest potential, not only for their own benefit, but for the benefit of the conlanger and the publisher. More importantly, readers will appreciate the extra love and care that you put into your stories.

The Magic of Portland’s Independent Publishing Resource Center

Portland, Oregon, has long been heralded as one of the best locations in America for artists, authors, and other creatives to find inspiration and community. Indeed, the city’s reputation has made it a hub for creative-minded folks looking for opportunities to hone their crafts and, more importantly, showcase and distribute their work to the public. For authors and artists who don’t have access to publishing technology or spaces to create, print, and publish their work, there are distinct barriers to doing what they love. However, there is an incredible nonprofit organization right here in Portland that seeks to break down these barriers and make publishing affordable and accessible to all.
Founded twenty-one years ago in a partnership between writer, publisher, bookseller, activist, and Portland City Commissioner Chloe Eudaly and printmaker Rebecca Gilbert, the Independent Publishing Resource Center (IPRC) is a nonprofit community center that is dedicated to making the process of publishing accessible and affordable to all. According to their mission statement, the IPRC seeks to provide “affordable access to space, tools, and resources for creating independently published media and artwork, and to build community and identity through the creation of written and visual art.”
One of the IPRC’s goals is to increase the accessibility of both print and visual publishing materials in order to promote diversity and equity in Portland and beyond through the creating and sharing of art. The center describes their goal this way:

By gathering such a diverse group of people under one roof, the IPRC nourishes an expansive and productive community, and is an incubator for the independent creative spirit that makes Portland unique. The IPRC fills the community need for low-cost access to otherwise expensive space, equipment, and materials, and supports artists to create quality, innovative, and experimental work that couldn’t be made elsewhere.

So just what kind of equipment does the IPRC have? The center’s main studio (currently open by appointment only due to COVID-19 safety precautions) offers an open workspace where patrons can work on individual projects and chat with other community members. The space is home to a digital lab containing iMac computers, which have access to creative software like Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop, and InDesign; black-and-white and color photocopiers (adorably named Blanche and Stella); paper-cutting equipment, including manual and electric paper cutters; paper finishing tools and staplers; button-making tools; and a Bind-Fast 5 perfect book binding machine. Haven’t used these tools before? Either a volunteer or the studio manager will provide you with training before your first use.
Outside of the main studio, the IPRC also offers other specialized studios for different types of printing. The Berlin Family Letterpress Studio is home to a number of letterpresses, a lead type collection, and even offers a galley rental. If screen printing is more your style, you might want to check out the WeMake Screen Printing Studio, which allows members to learn and practice screen printing fundamentals, and offers all the necessary materials that are needed to make a project come to life. Finally, the IPRC Risograph Studio is home to three Risograph printers and thirteen color drums. For each of these specialty printing studios, members are required to complete introductory workshops on how to use the equipment before being allowed to access and use the technology.
The IPRC also offers workshops and classes on a variety of other subjects, including creative writing (both fiction and nonfiction), poetry, chapbooks, zines, and even bookkeeping. The center keeps an updated calendar on their website with information about upcoming workshops and events. Other programs offered by the IPRC include a year-long certificate program that combines creative writing workshops with instruction in design, book arts, and print production; a BIPOC Artist & Writer Residency which provides authors with time and space to create, as well as a stipend of three thousand dollars; and summer youth camps that offer five weeks of creative writing, printmaking, and comic workshops for youth ages five to eighteen.
Interested in using some of the IPRC’s many tools and resources for your creative projects? Learn about membership opportunities and non-member access to studios on their website. You can also donate to this incredible organization to help keep it running so that the Portland community can retain access to these incredible resources. See their wishlist on their website, and support local artists by shopping the wonderful artwork created at the IPRC’s studios.

Two upright female hands, one black and one white, holding pinkies

Why Representation Matters: Symbolic Annihilation and Publishing

Recent months have shown a growing commitment to support BIPOC writers and creators in the publishing industry. While major publishers like Hachette have made gestures towards supporting marginalized groups, publishing as a field is still far behind where it needs to be in order to truly foster equity. While these conversations are continuing to unfold, it’s heartening to see that some organizations are starting to take steps to increase equity and support marginalized voices on a structural level. Ooligan Press is among a growing number of independent publishers actively working to bolster marginalized people by providing a platform for their voices and adding positive representation in their catalogues.
What is often left out of conversations surrounding equity and representation in media is the why of the conversation. Why do we need more diversity in publishing? While some may consider it self-evident that we need more representation, the answer is not nearly so simple. Numerous scholars have dedicated their entire careers to understanding why people need to see themselves represented in stories, so a blog post like this one could never adequately address (or even summarize) the complexities of the problem at hand, but these complexities shouldn’t deter us from the conversation. I want to offer an explanation for one aspect of this problem, in the hope that it will help equip those in a position to address issues of equity with a cogent reason why we should be actively providing more representation in publishing. This reason is symbolic annihilation.
The term “symbolic annihilation” refers to the erasure of people—specifically categories of people like women, people of color, people with disabilities, and members of the LGBTQ+ community—from popular media. As Robin R. Means Coleman and Emily Chivers Yochim explain in their article on the subject, “symbolic annihilation points to the ways in which poor media treatment can contribute to social disempowerment and in which symbolic absence in the media can erase groups and individuals from public consciousness.” More simply, symbolic annihilation is what happens when the lack of representation of a group affects their real-life empowerment in the public sphere.
In an article written in 1976, the researcher responsible for coining the term, George Gerbner, argues that the role of symbolic annihilation is to maintain inequality on a structural and social level. By not allowing the representation of marginalized groups, “tastemakers” and other wielders of cultural capital not only strip people within these categories of their identities, but deny that identity’s place within the larger cultural context. Gerbner argues that “representation in the fictional world signifies social existence.” This denial can, and does, have lasting effects on the psychological and social well-being of people in marginalized groups, as detailed in a 2011 Opportunity Agenda study that shows the ongoing effects of poor and non-representation on the lives of Black American men.
In 1979, Gaye Tuchman expanded Gerbner’s approach to include the insidious ways that symbolic annihilation reaches beyond the limitations of mere exclusion. Tuchman’s definition includes omission, trivialization, and condemnation as ways that symbolic annihilation manifests itself. These forms of symbolic annihilation are particularly harmful, as they present potential role models for people who need them in ways that are demeaning and often predatory. This kind of representation distort a subject’s conception of what it means to be part of a group.
A study was conducted in 2012 to understand the ways in which representation of gender and race in children’s television shows impacted self-esteem. It revealed that of the four groups that took part in the study—Black girls, Black boys, white girls, and white boys only the group of white boys’ self-esteem was not negatively impacted by the experience. In their discussion of the study, the authors cite the representations of racial and gendered stereotypes in the TV shows as the force behind this change. The study effectively shows the consequences of Tuchman’s trivialization and condemnation forms of symbolic annihilation at play as poor media representations distort the self-image of these children.
While the term was first applied to television in the 1970s, its impact is applicable across all media types, especially those that have as formative of an influence on culture as books. While publishing’s position as a taste-making entity has received some criticism in recent years, it remains a multibillion dollar industry and has worked to shape culture for as long as the book has existed. For this reason, publishing is an important medium in which to combat symbolic annihilation, both in what we produce and in who we hire. It is our duty as publishers to not only provide space for marginalized groups, but to defend the voices of the people within those groups. We are the media and passivity is not an option.

A blue and silver sombrero.

Celebrating Cinco de Mayo: Five YA Titles Highlighting Hispanic Heritage

Are you celebrating Cinco de Mayo this year? Although Cinco de Mayo officially commemorates a victory for the Mexican army at the Battle of Puebla during the Franco-Mexican War, it’s evolved into an international celebration of Mexican culture and heritage. Regardless of your background or your plans this Cinco de Mayo, if you’re like most of us at Ooligan Press, any good day of celebration somehow involves a refreshing drink paired with a relevant new read. We may not know your drink preference, but we’ve compiled a list of YA titles highlighting Hispanic heritage that are perfect for celebrating this cultural holiday.

  1. I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika Sanchez
  2. Published in 2017, I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter tells the story of Julia Reyes, a teenage girl growing up in a low-income Chicago neighborhood with her older sister Olga and her undocumented parents. Olga is the perfect Mexican daughter, and Julia is . . . not. Olga still lives at home, wears modest clothes, doesn’t date, and has a respectable job. Julia, however, is extremely independent, rebellious, and dreams of going to college in NYC. After Olga dies in a tragic accident, Julia discovers her older sister had a secret life. Unfortunately, just as Julia feels like she’s starting to understand Olga better, life gets even more complicated when Julia gets her first boyfriend and her parents react by sending Julia to stay with family in Mexico.

  3. With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo
  4. After getting pregnant her freshman year of high school, Emoni Santiago’s life has been about hard choices that prioritize taking care of her daughter and her abuela. The only place she’s able to relax and let everything go is in the kitchen, where Emoni adds that extra something special to everything she cooks. Emoni dreams of working as a chef after she graduates, but she knows it’s impossible because she has to take care of her family. Despite knowing her chances of “making it” are poor, once Emoni starts cooking, she can’t stop her talent from breaking free.

  5. Somewhere Between Bitter and Sweet by Laekan Zea Kemp
  6. Somewhere Between Bitter and Sweet is a story told through the alternating perspectives of Penelope Prado and Xander Amaro, two teenagers living in Austin, Texas. Penelope’s dream is to open a pastry shop next to her father’s restaurant, Nacho’s Tacos, and Xander is a new-hire at Nacho’s who’s looking for a chance at a normal life. This unlikely pair first comes together because of food, and they quickly find themselves working together when Xander’s immigration status and the restaurant are both threatened.

  7. The Go-Between by Veronica Chambers
  8. Camilla del Valle’s mom is a glamorous telenovela actress, her dad is famous for voice-over work in blockbuster films, and every teenage girl in Mexico City wants to be her. Needless to say, Cammi’s life is pretty glamorous. But when her mom gets cast in an American sitcom and the family moves to LA, her life doesn’t feel quite so glamorous anymore. Her mom’s new TV role is as a maid, her dad struggles to find work, and Cammi’s new friends assume that she’s only able to attend their expensive private school because of a scholarship. At first Cammi plans to use their mistake as a way to teach her friends a lesson, but the more she lies about where she’s from, the more she struggles to know where she belongs.

  9. The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros
  10. Originally published in 1983, The House on Mango Street is a critically acclaimed and best-selling coming-of-age classic that tells the story of Esperanza Cordero through a series of vignettes portraying life in a Latino community. Esperanza is a young girl living in Chicago who uses poems and stories to express her oppression and feelings of disconnection to her own life while growing up on Mango street.

Happy Cinco de Mayo!