GROWING up in my elementary years in public school in New Jersey, my fondest memories were the Newberry books that we would read as students. I remember devouring Scott O’Dell’s “Island of the Blue Dolphins” and how that book was such a big part of my childhood. Now as an adult, I too introduced the book to my own children.
A Newbery Award-winning book is one that becomes the book to read for the year, so when I heard about this year’s winner, I couldn’t be happier because not only is the author a Filipina, but the main character Virgilio is clearly Filipino.
Representation truly matters and now a whole generation will see themselves as a visible part of the literature landscape believing that one day, they too can pursue becoming an award-winning Newbery medalist because Filipino-American Erin Entrada Kelly paved and led the way to help make it happen.
I am extremely excited to announce that Kelly, the author of “Hello Universe,” will be in Los Angeles this weekend for a Summer Reading Series at the Central Library in downtown Los Angeles on Aug. 5, 2018 from 2-3 p.m. It is free to go to the reading so bring your children! Arrive early as there will be 100 kids who will get a free book signed by the author.
G: How did your upbringing as a Filipino American contribute to the work you’ve done thus far as a writer?
Erin: I grew up in an area with very few Filipino Americans, so I felt very different from my peers. I was the only one with an immigrant parent. It’s difficult being an outsider when you’re a kid, so for a long time, I wished more than anything that I had blue eyes and blonde hair. It took me a long time to embrace my heritage — it took maturity, motherhood, and a wider worldview. It’s my hope that young people will learn to love their authentic selves as early as possible; if my books do that for readers, then I’ve succeeded.
G: Tell us about the process of winning your Newbery?
Erin: The process of selecting the Newbery Medalist is complicated, guarded, and highly well-respected. I’m not sure I even understand how it works, only that I’m incredibly honored to have been the Medalist this year. My life changed immediately and it’s been a magical whirlwind ever since.
G: How do things change for you as a writer with this prestigious award?
Erin: On a personal level, it’s completely surreal and unbelievable. I’d like to say it’s incredibly validating, which it is, but it’s difficult to feel validated when you’re perpetually astonished to be the awardee. On a practical level, it brings my books to a wider audience and has allowed me to support myself solely as a novelist. This year’s Newbery honorees were all people of color, which makes the honor particularly special.
G: How important is it that Filipino Americans tell their stories through the medium of fiction?
Erin: It’s important for all marginalized groups to tell their stories any way they can — through fiction, nonfiction, film, television, stage, art, poetry. The U.S. is a diverse country. It’s time that our mediums reflect that diversity in an honest, respectful, and representative way. People need to tell their stories before someone else does it for them.
G: Can you share plans about going to the Philippines in August? Have you been before and if not, how are you feeling about going back?
Erin: I have been before, but I’ve never been to Manila, so I’m very excited. I’m especially thrilled because I’ll see my mom! She moved to Cebu several years ago and I haven’t seen her since. I can’t wait to meet Filipino readers … but I really can’t wait to see my mama.
Make sure to catch Erin at The Philippine Readers and Writers Festival this August 10-12 at the Raffles, Makati if you are in the motherland. For more info go to: www.readersandwritersfestival.com/
And if you haven’t yet, grab the book “Hello Universe” and read it with your family today!
Giselle Tongi Walters is a familiar face in the Filipino community for her film and television work as an actor, producer and host. She continues to create content that explores the Filipino identity away from the motherland and the cultural implications of migration through her work. With biracial roots, she identifies as having a full Filipina heart.