Poet and novelist Elizabeth Acevedo drew richly on her experience growing up as the Afro-Latina child of Dominican immigrants in New York City when she performed and spoke about her work to an enthralled audience of more than 1000 Berkeley High students, including the entire 9th grade, on May 14 in the Community Theater.
Acevedo – whose debut novel, The Poet X, won the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature last year – told the students that her poem about rats, for example, was written in defiance of the graduate school professor who told her that rats aren’t noble enough for poetry.
Elizabeth Acevedo was scheduled to leave for her next engagement in Los Angeles early the next day. However, she learned of two unique programs at Willard and Longfellow that enticed her to stay and casually drop in to visit students at those schools.
Her new novel, With the Fire on High, is set in a high school that has a culinary arts program. When she learned of the Growing Leaders program at Willard, she knew she wanted to visit those students.
Acevedo also had heard that a group of Longfellow students were participating in the “Finding Your Voice” Great Stories Book Club, and one of the three books they were reading together was The Poet X; of course she wanted to meet those students, too!
In the words of District Librarian Becca Todd, “It mattered not whether it was a formal presentation, or a casual chat, Elizabeth Acevedo spoke directly to students’ hearts and minds, about issues of race, class, artistry, heritage, inspiration…and hope. What a gift.”
Acevedo’s visit also generated positive chatter and appreciations on the BHS staff email list:
Teacher A: Phenomenal! So engaging, so relevant, so inspiring.
Teacher B: AMAZING!!! We went back and wrote poetry in our class! THANK YOU!!
Teacher C: I wholeheartedly agree! My students and I really enjoyed it- she was insightful, relatable, amazing. This was just a stellar experience. Thank you to everyone who took the time to put this together- everything was so organized, and the lesson plan helped my students get a lot more out of the performance.
Ms. Ford, Longfellow Teacher Librarian, shared: “Our students were honored, awed and inspired to hear Elizabeth Acevedo. She was open and honest about herself and her work our students are embracing her books wholeheartedly. They appreciate reading and seeing themselves in her work.”