Elizabeth Acevedo

American poet and author

Elizabeth Acevedo is a Dominican-American poet and author.

Elizabeth Acevedo in 2011


  • I often wish I was asked more about the craft of the verse. I spent so many agonizing hours ensuring every line break was precise, every word and repetition chosen with care—because it was important to me to maintain the integrity of the lyric while also advancing the narrative. It’s that tightrope walk I’m studying in other people’s work and am continuously looking to understand further.
  • I think I have a sense of how things need to sound, how to pull an audience in with tone, timing, and pacing. That affects a lot of my writing, too, being hyper aware of how an audience might read something. I want what’s happening on the page to mimic what my body would do on stage. A lot of that came out in the audiobook. I think I would have struggled to record the audiobook without having stage experience because it’s a lot of work to maintain that kind of performance voice.
  • I try to tell the most authentic stories I can about womanhood and Dominican-ness and Afro-Dominican-ness/Afro-Latinidad that I can. Then I go back in and edit with the eye of who sets the table in this book, who gets left out, what am I saying, and what am I not saying right? I lean in or be more intentional about that. For me, it’s trying to be authentic and mindful of my own biases and questioning those while also just being incredibly truthful since truthfulness is inherently intersectional, right? I can’t not be woman and Black-descendant and culturally Latinx. Everything I write will have that in it.
  • Part of it is finding your readers. Sometimes your readers don’t look like you, or come from your same background, but you get a sense of like, they know what I’m trying to do. They’re not telling me what they would do or telling me what their favorite poet would do. They’re telling me “Okay, based off the work you brought into this room, this is what I’m hearing.” That, to me, is such a generous way of reading because it’s reflecting back what you’re doing and you can figure out if it’s working or not. So, figure out who are your people…
  • people read like they eat: Sometimes we want comfort, sometimes we want to work to crack something open…Books truly are nourishment for me.
  • (How do you distinguish Y.A. books from adult fiction?) Partly voice, but my own personal ethos is that Y.A. requires hope. I’m less stringent on my requirement for hope in books for adults.
  • I don’t think writer’s block is real either…but I do think of it as a response to anxiety that oftentimes when we think [what] we have [is] writer’s block [but] what we may be grappling with is that we are uninspired, and that to make you have to also be taking in, and you have to be taking in at the same kind of level as you want to put out. And so if I’m working on a poetry collection it is helpful when I’m reading poetry or if I’m reading with a writer’s eye… Even if I’m not actively writing I’m always percolating, my brain is trying to make meaning and so I want to give it as much nutritious content as I can if that makes sense. And so I think the other thing we say when we say writer’s block is that we’re just stuck—we’re in the middle of something and maybe we don’t know where it goes or we don’t know how to finish the essay… and so we get anxious and tell ourselves we can’t, and I think both of those have an answer but it’s about figuring out what you’re actually dealing with. So, for me, I feel like writer’s block can often be an easy way to relieve yourself of having to do the work of what is it about creativity and this moment that I am stumbling over and how can I address it, right?
  • In a way, writing has always been lonely, that’s not really a new thing due to the pandemic per se, but it’s nice that it’s kind of forcing us—forcing you—to find ways to kind of work around that. It’s lonely I think in different ways because there’s the possibility of let’s meet up and write or let me go to an open mic and listen to other writers, and I think we’re finding new creative ways to create that community. Writing has always been lonely but everything else also feels lonely [now] and so to create communal relief somewhere—that felt so important.
  • I feel like each book requires a different level of research. “The Poet X” was the most closely aligned with my own upbringing, and I know slam poetry [and] poetry styles pretty well, so it was less research for that book. “With the Fire on High” had a little bit more—she’s afro-Puerto Rican, it’s set in Philadelphia and it has to do with culinary school… so I had to dive in there. She’s also a teen parent.
  • I didn’t personally have anyone in my family who passed on that crash, but I remember how it ruptured our understanding of each other at that moment—like who was on that flight (AA587 in 2001), what happened, is it terrorism? What does it mean when you lose almost 300 lives in two and a half minutes?
  • I’ve been lucky to travel to DR to the Mariposa Foundation and so speaking with the young women while I was doing workshops there as to their experience with an area that has a high percentage of sex tourism and also child prostitution and so the research sounds haphazard but it was really my trying to locate each character, their reality and make sure that all of this information doesn’t end up in the book that I had a very clear sense of the world that I am trying to write.
  • I think I always go into a project imagining that I’m not going to pour too much of myself into it, and I think it helps that I write for teens, so there’s a distance there—between the kinds of things I’m dealing with versus the things you deal with when you’re 16 and there’s a lot of firsts still to encounter. But I do find that often at some point in the draft—perhaps halfway through—there are things that start coming up that are really things I’m dealing with.
  • I think so often how people, particularly poets, begin first writing out of heartbreak, out of loss. Like I think most people’s early poems are because they are so emotional over something and this is the only form that feels safe, I can get it out on paper, at least that is how I remember writing and when I often encounter a young poet it is because of a thing that they are almost trying to exercise out of themselves and writing is the way to turn… and that does feel like creating from crisis.
  • I also think of how often, when you’re first-generation, your parents don’t have the ability to self-actualize. They are working, or at least my parents were working to make sure there was food on the table, to make sure there was money they could send back to their own families… There wasn’t a lot of time for my mom to say I’m going to take care of myself and this is a practice and a thing i’m going to do outside of church...to be an immigrant in this country there’s a lot of uncertainty and instability you’re constantly dealing with
  • I think that one of the things I've noticed when I've spent time in the Dominican Republic, it's such a diaspora community in terms of who's in the U.S., that even when people feel really satisfied with what they're doing, there's still this desire to see what's in the U.S., what is happening in New York, like, what is this world we're always hearing about?
  • I don't imagine I'll ever write a book for young people that doesn't include an intergenerational theme — for me that was such a big part of growing up. And I think literature that is contemplating the family, you need the parents coming in and they can't be perfect. They can't, you know, save the day on their own.
  • my own growth requires me to be able to forgive.
  • It's hard to find stability when you're constantly rotating between the place you are and the place you're from.
  • I was born and raised in this intersection between Harlem and Columbia University. Very much what felt like in-between worlds. But in a very Dominican immigrant Black community. My journey begins with my listening to my parents tell me stories, and with listening to bolero music and listening to hip hop. I wanted to write music long before I ever considered myself a poet or a writer…
  • But actually, it was teaching. I was an eighth grade English teacher, Prince George’s County, Maryland. I taught at a school that was 78 percent Latinx, almost 20 percent Black. They had never had an Afro-Latina teaching there at all. So here I am in this space where my students are so representative of the spaces I come from, and yet they had never seen a figure in front of them that reflected their background—and my students were struggling readers. So that was where the first kernel of “Maybe my writing is leading towards my offering something to these students.” That was where the idea of a novel first sprang up.
  • Every one of my characters is Black. And every one of my characters wrestles with what that means. I’m trying to think about the many ways that people might come to terms with their race and identity and provide young women reading different blueprints. There are many ways you can be you and that you can exist in your Blackness. And here are some questions you might be wrestling with because I know that I’ve kind of sat in, “what do I call myself?”
  • What does it mean to say, “Alright, I can be Black and not be Black American and still be in solidarity with Black Americans.” Recognize perhaps we have similarities, but also, like in supporting you, you might have differences. You might have things that you have going on because you generationally lived in this country that I may not understand. So I can stand here and be like, “I am Black, too, but I will be quiet because right now, this is a different beat. I can learn here.”
  • this isn’t new. I think that’s my biggest thing, right? Negritude has been around. It has been a movement in Latin America for years, for decades. And we are finding the language and doing some deep dives, that also may complicate our understanding of our heritage.
  • when it came to having conversations with editors, I felt really prepared to be like, “I want to know how many folks of color you’ve published. I want to know what their trajectories were. I want to know how you support second books.” Right. Not just this one book.
  • I think having that longterm vision was helpful. But I want folks to just do the work. Right. Do the research. Information is out there. There’s a lot of ways to hustle even before you’ve been signed to anything.
  • I’m still learning a lot. For me, it’s like, “Where could this be going?” Alright, let me do that work now.

Quotes about Elizabeth Acevedo

  • (What book should everybody read before the age of 21?) “The Poet X,” by Elizabeth Acevedo. It’s a stunning story told in verse about a young Dominican poet learning to use her voice and take up space. I think as we grow up and start to discover who we are, we also have to discover what we want to say. Then we have to get comfortable saying it. I think this is the kind of story that makes you feel strong when you’re reading it, and then you can lean on that strength when you need to use your voice and take up space in your real life.
  • Elizabeth Acevedo is a national treasure. She does so many things well while being a lovely person. Read everything she writes.
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