[Many thanks to Peter Jordens for bringing this item to our attention.] In “Novelist Elizabeth Acevedo’s work reflects the rich stories, traditions, and cultures of the Caribbean diaspora,” Liana Ewald (MIT News, June 1, 2022) reviews a recent reading and discussion with Elizabeth Acevedo at MIT.
On Thursday, April 21, the air in MIT room 3-270 was electric with excitement, as poet and novelist Elizabeth Acevedo took the floor, along with student moderator Nailah J. Smith ’22. Acevedo is Afro-Latinx, born in Harlem, New York, to Dominican parents, and one of the most acclaimed young Latinx writers on the contemporary literary scene. A dynamic speaker, she is a national poetry slam champion, young-adult novelist, and the winner of prestigious literary awards, including the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, the Michael L. Printz Award, and the Carnegie Medal. Smith, her student interlocutor that day, is herself a budding novelist and an award-winning writer, having garnered prizes such as the Louis Kampf Writing Prize (2019) and the Ilona Karmel Writing Prizes (2021 and 2022) at MIT.
The two women had been brought together before an in-person audience of some 50 people, with an additional 90 participating online via livestreaming for the MIT Reads program’s spring 2022 event, “A Conversation with Elizabeth Acevedo,” co-sponsored by the Program in Women’s and Gender Studies, MIT Global Languages, the MIT Libraries, the Committee on Race and Diversity, Hermanas Unidas, My Sister’s Keeper, and Latino ERG.
By inviting Acevedo to speak at MIT and showcasing her work, MIT Reads and the event co-sponsors sought to engage the campus community with a writer whose person and works provide vital insight into a crucial, yet often overlooked, aspect of U.S. history and society: the influence of the Caribbean diaspora and the rich stories, traditions, and cultures of the Dominicans, Cubans, and Puerto Ricans who have shaped the character of their adopted homeland.
Acevedo had come to campus to read from her novel “Clap When You Land” (2020). The novel-in-verse probes the events surrounding the Nov. 12, 2001 crash of American Airlines Flight 587, the second-deadliest aviation accident in U.S. history, in which 260 passengers on the flight and five people on the ground perished. Over 90 percent of the passengers on the flight, which was bound for Santo Domingo, were of Dominican descent. Thirteen years old at the time of the crash, Acevedo later wrote “Clap When You Land” as a way of reflecting upon the schism she noted between the devastation the crash caused within the Dominican-American community and the relatively fleeting coverage by major U.S. news outlets of the crash, overshadowed as it was by the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. “Clap When You Land” is thus a work that considers “who matters and deserves attention in the media,” as Acevedo writes, while also exploring related issues of race, social class, and trauma. [. . .]
On that sunny day in April, Acevedo held her audience spellbound as she read from the opening chapter of “Clap When You Land,” which evokes the Dominican homeland of Camino Rios, one of the two sisters and teenage female protagonists of the novel:
I spend nights wiping clean the bottoms of my feet,
soiled rag over a bucket, undoing this mark of place.
To be from this barrio is to be made of this earth & clay:
Dirt-packed, water-backed, third-world smacked [. . .]
[Photo above by Liana Ewald: An MIT Reads discussion with author Elizabeth Acevedo (right) was moderated by MIT senior and budding novelist Nailah Smith (left).]
For full article, see https://news.mit.edu/2022/novelist-elizabeth-acevedo-caribbean-diaspora-0601