¡Mira, Look! Featured Author: Matt de la Peña

Matt de la PenaMatt de la Peña is the author of five young adult fiction novels, a picture book, two books in Scholastic’s popular Infinity Ring Series, and numerous short fiction pieces and essays in various newspapers and literary journals. He received his MFA in creative writing from San Diego State University and his BA from the University of the Pacific where he attended school on a full basketball scholarship. De la Peña currently lives in Brooklyn, NY, where he teaches creative writing.

 Mexican WhiteBoy, de la Peña’s second novel, cemented his reputation as a writer to watch. It was an ALA-YALSA Best Books for Young Adults top ten pick, a 2009 Notable Book for a Global Society, a Junior Library Guild Selection and it made the 2008 Bulletin for the Center of Children’s Literature Blue Ribbon List. In a Rumpus interview with de la Peña, he says that “There are many novels that detail the immigrant experience of coming to the United States, but I was searching for a voice that tackled the issues affecting youth born and raised here, for fiction that covered the Latino family dynamics where race and class collide right within your own kin.”

De la Peña is not the typical Latino author; he takes the idea of multicultural and diverse books to a new level by incorporating a variety of genres into his work, from sports-themed to apocalyptic sci-fi, all the while presenting challenges faced by bi-racial or multiracial protagonists. In 2015, Matt’s second picture book, Last Stop on Market Street, will be released by Penguin, and his sixth YA novel, The Hunted (a sequel to The Living) will be released by Delacorte.

An important part of de le Peña’s career includes sharing his experience with future potential readers and writers by conducting frequent visits to high schools and colleges throughout the country to give talks and inspire students to not be ashamed of or afraid to fall in love with literature. In an essay he wrote for NPR, de le Peña discusses how, as a reluctant reader in junior high school, “I found myself writing poems in the back of class. Secret spoken-word-style poems I never shared.” He says these poems reflected the confusion he felt about growing up racially-mixed. “I wasn’t able to express myself the way I truly wanted to, though, until I was introduced to multicultural literature in college that led to me falling in love with books.

Perhaps because of his experiences in school, de la Peña has become a strong and active supporter of We Need Diverse Books, a grassroots campaign and organization created to address the lack of diverse, non-majority narratives in children’s literature. In support of a We Need Diverse Books Indiegogo Fundraising Campaign, de la Peña helped create this video in which he makes a compelling case for why we need diverse books in school curriculum.

For more information about how de la Peña situates his own writing as part of this larger case for diverse literature, check out the following resources:

  • An NPR interview with Matt de la Peña on his newest young adult fiction book, The Living where he discusses things such as the influence of social class on his fiction, the challenges of writing for the young adult genre, and the importance of multicultural literature.
  • A great author video of Matt de la Peña by Schooltube in which he talks about his inspiration behind writing his latest science fiction novel, and the subtle ways in which he incorporates issues of race and class into the story.
  • A very interesting New York Times article that reports on de la Peña visiting a Tucson High School while MexicanWhiteBoy was being banned in congruence with an Arizona state law targeting Mexican-American studies courses.

Image: Matt de la Peña. Reprinted from Matt de la Peña’s website.

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