Author Post: Andrea Beatriz Arango
I’ve always loved books that are in conversation with each other. As a kid, and now as an adult, the references that authors would sprinkle throughout their novels seemed like small gifts—side quests I could explore once I was done reading that particular book. Twelve-year-old me didn’t have the gift of Google, but that didn’t stop me from doing my very best to follow the breadcrumb trails some authors left behind. Iveliz Explains It All is written in verse because Iveliz loves poetry. This, combined with the fact that kids nowadays often have their own phones or can easily connect to the internet at school, shaped the references I included for Iveliz’s readers to find.
I don’t remember when I first discovered spoken word poetry, but I was old enough that this discovery happened on YouTube and not in real life. I remember watching, transfixed, wishing that slam poetry nights and competitions existed anywhere close to home. Not so I could perform myself, necessarily, but so I could watch. I was hypnotized by the confidence of these poets and their way with words, enamored with how much more these poems felt like storytelling and not just verse. Discovering this kind of poetry not only shaped me as a writer but completely transformed how I taught poetry. Teenagers who once had groaned at the thought of our poetry unit were now engaged. These poets spoke to them in ways the ones in their textbooks didn’t, and I loved getting to see some of them write their own poems to perform in class.
It would be many more years before I discovered novels-in-verse, but when I finally did, it was like everything I loved about spoken word and novels had merged into an art form I could have never imagined. Here were written poems, storytelling poems, speaking an entire novel without a single paragraph. These books were beautiful, heartfelt, and just begging to be read aloud.
Elizabeth Acevedo was the first Latinx poet I found who did both. Her slam poems about her name and her hair had me in tears. When The Poet X came out a few years later, I knew she was carving a path to something different, though I didn’t yet believe publishing my own work was a dream I could achieve. Later, during the pandemic, I found Elisabet Velasquez on Instagram. She had a book deal by then, and I remember thinking: There are Puerto Ricans out here doing this. Yo puedo hacer esto también. The poem Iveliz’s friend Amir gives her toward the end of the book is from Elisabet’s debut YA novel, When We Make It, because by the time Iveliz and I had reached the end of this story, it felt like we had made it, too.
All this to say that there are so many poets out there sharing their words through various media. The internet has made it so wonderfully easy for people to experience each other’s work. And while I don’t know if every reader will look up the poets I reference in my book, I’d love to imagine teachers and librarians using these references in lessons—showing kids that there are so many different ways to be an artist, to be a writer, and if they want to create poetry, they absolutely can.