Monday, June 06, 2011

TLA: Margarita Engle

Time to catch up on the Round Up.
Next up, Margarita Engle!

As a child growing up in Los Angeles, Margarita Engle’s days were filled with the lush language and stories of Cuba. Despite her own creative nature and the nurturing of her artist parents, Margarita studied science and eventually became an associate professor of agronomy at California Polytechnic University. It wasn’t until years later, after marriage and children, that Margarita revisited writing.

The publication of a poem lead to two adult novels, Singing to Cuba (Arte Publico, 1993) and Skywriting (Bantam, 1995). When faced with a difficult writing period during the creation of Juan Francisco Manzo’s biography, she revisited poetry. The resulting work, The Poet Slave of Cuba (Henry Holt, 2006), received numerous awards, including the American Library Association’s Pura Belpre Medal. Reviewers praised Poet Slave calling the work “powerful” and remarking on the “impressive synergy between poetry and biography.”

Engle prefers to write with “old fashioned” paper and pen. Sometimes she helps her husband, who leads search and rescue dog training, by being “lost” in the forest. “Sometimes I hide for hours, and I always take paper and pens with me. There is no place more suited to poetry than the wilderness. Anything can happen.”

What has happened has been the creation of an impressive body of work. To date Engle has produced two adult novels; and several titles for youth including
  • The Poet Slave of Cuba
  • The Surrender Tree: Poems of Cuba’s Struggle for Freedom
  • Tropical Secrets: Holocaust Refugees in Cuba
  • The Firefly Letters: A suffragette’s journey to Cuba
  • Hurricane Dancers: The First Caribbean Pirate Shipwreck

As for the inspiration of much of Engle’s work, Cuba, she tries to visit whenever she can. “I have been to Cuba many times since 1991, when travel restrictions were eased by the Cuban government. Since travel is still severely restricted by the U.S. government, it is always an ordeal trying to get permission from both countries at the same time.” Her readers, however, get to experience Cuba through her words. As the 2009 Pura Belpré Committee Chair Claudette McLinn noted, “Engle’s prose breathes life into each character, and her rich use of language catapults the reader into the jungles of Cuba.”

Here Margarita reads from her newest work, Hurricane Dancers, a powerful story set in the early 1500’s about a slave named Quebrado, a Spanish pirate named Bernardo de Talavera, and a hostage named Alonso de Ojeda and their intertwining fates when all three are stranded on an island after a hurricane destroys their ship.

Image credit: SV; Marianne Follis

Thanks to Marianne Follis for research and writing our intros!

Posting (not poem) by Sylvia M. Vardell © 2011. All rights reserved.

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