Saludos a todos! This week we are taking a moment to celebrate and feature author Ibi Aanu Zoboi, the writer behind this month’s featured novel, American Street, which we’ll read next week on November 13th at Tractor Brewing on 4th. Like with our previous authors, we take this time to feature the breadth of the author’s oeuvre, as well as more personal details that have informed her work.
Ibi Zoboi was born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. She immigrated to the United States as a young child alongside her mother and currently lives in Brooklyn with her husband and their three children.
She holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from the Vermont College of Fine Arts and is an accomplished writer, with publications in The New York Times Book Review, the Horn Book Magazine, and The Rumpus, among others. Her debut novel, American Street, was published by Balzer + Bray, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, this year. Her work has a received an impressive range of awards, accolades and recognition, but, most notably, American Street was nominated for a 2017 National Book Award, one of the greatest literary honors in the country. Her next YA novel, Pride, is due out in the Fall of 2018, and a middle grade novel, My life as an Ice-Cream Sandwich, is forthcoming.
Zoboi’s writing is powerful and rooted in a celebration of her Haitian heritage. More than celebratory, however, her writing confronts and challenges how Haitian culture is generally portrayed – and how young women of color, particularly young Black and Latinx women, appear in literature and the media. She grapples openly with questions of poverty and institutional racism, white supremacy and violence. And in the process, her writing helps to humanize individuals whose lives are too frequently dehumanized, degraded, and stigmatized in popular media – if they’re fortunate enough to appear at all. As Zoboi writes in her blog, “what matters most is that we black content creators within all-white industries take the helm and steer the ship to tell stories that are true and humanizing – narratives that pull from lived experiences and are based on a deep love for black people.”
This inspiration is apparent in American Street, a novel that brings individual stories to life through empathy, emotion, and truth – while also acknowledging complexities of immigration, poverty, love, patriotism, religion, ethnicity, culture, language, and so much more. In truth, Zoboi’s writing is deeply intersectional and multilayered, nuanced with keen observations about lived experiences. In an interview with Zoboi, Alice Cary of BookPage hones in on this complexity, calling Zoboi “a novelist who digs deep into what happens when cultures, nationalities, races, and religions collide.” It fits, then, that Zoboi’s work appears in literary outlets which emphasize speaking with honesty. Her award-winning story, “At the Shores of Dawn,” for instance, first appeared in the literary journal of One?Respe!, an educational organization focused on the power of reflection, taking its name from a creole expression loosely meaning Honor and Respect.
Perhaps just as important as the themes she addresses are the audiences for which Zoboi writes. Her audiences range from children to adults, leading s blogger for Kreyolicious to observe that, “to call writer Ibi Zoboi ‘versatile’ is an understatement. Her pen will write a compelling essay one minute, a short story the next, and a children’s book the next.”
After reading through Zoboi’s work, it is clear that part of her trademark style is a rare ability to write fluid, internal dialogue that fleshes out social nuances often difficult to put into words – and to write stories on behalf of lesser-known, lesser-voiced protagonists who are too often omitted from the broader publishing world. Hers is most certainly a writing worth seeking out, be it one of her essays, her children’s book, or her first YA novel. We highly recommend it.
And for those who want to learn more and about from the woman herself, we encourage you to visit Zoboi’s website and blog, where she describes her writing in more detail, tackles issues of representation and blackness in literature, and explores and what it means to write children’s literature with empowered brown characters.
p.s. special shout out to LAII graduate student, Jacob Sandler, for his help with writing this feature!
Photograph of Ibi Zoboi reprinted from author website.