My previous post about The Cool Kids reminded me of the panel I organized for REFORMA’s National Conference in September. The panel consisted of the only 3 y.a. writers that I am aware of who have ever had a published young adult novel set in El Paso, Texas–J.L. Powers (me), Benjamin Alire Saenz, and Claudia Guadalupe Martinez; more depressing still, or perhaps more exhilarating still ifÂ you want to be unique, we are among only a handful-and-a-half of y.a. writers who have set our novels on the U.S.-Mexico Border. We were discussing why there are so few novels for teenagers that are set on the peripheries of our nation. Now, by peripheries, I don’t mean necessarily the borders, because teenagers in Minnesota are still growing up in mainstream society, whereas teenagers in El Paso are definitely not!
Benjamin Alire Saenz began to get quite excited as he discussed how the gatekeepers in the book world–agents, editors, publishers, and then librarians, teachers, and booksellers–have ghettoized literature about latinos set in a predominantly latino world such as El Paso. He mentioned how one of his books received a review that said something like “even though Saenz’s novel is set in El Paso, its themes resonate with the human condition, with things people everywhere grapple with.” (I’m paraphrasing.) Ben wanted to know why nobody ever writes a book review that says “even though so-and-so’s novel is set in New York, its themes resonate…etc. etc.” Ben sure knows how to stick it to The Man! I love the fact that he has remained faithful to his values, of writing about Latinos, of writing about El Paso, from El Paso. That fame and fortune aren’t why he writes.
I’m still young enough that fame and fortune seem elusively tantalizing. But when I really reflect on it, it’s nice not to be completely in the limelight. I remember remarking to Sara Zarr once that I wished my books sold as well as hers, and got as many reviews as hers, and she just said, “Careful what you wish for.” Touche!