Five Questions for Sofia Quintero,
Author of Show and Prove
For our last KidsRead event of the school year, we invited Sofia Quintero, a Bronx-based author who writes books for teens and adults. The entire ninth grade class of The Academy for Young Writers in Brooklyn read her book, Show and Prove, and then visited the Center to hear Quintero speak about her life, her writing, and her new, interactive website.
Do you have any particular strategies for getting into the perspective of a teenaged character?
For one thing I’m always working with young people in some capacity. I currently run an after school program located in a middle school so I’m around them all day. Prior to that I was a teaching artist who taught reading and writing for organizations such as the National Book Foundation and Urban Word NYC. When I wrote Efrain’s Secret, I workshopped a draft with a focus group of high school boys in the Bronx, and they were tremendously helpful in letting me know what was working and what was not. And nothing beats just listening to teenagers wherever they may be. My favorite place is on public transportation and in fast food restaurants. I’m the cool auntie at the next table pretending not to be in your business.
Can you talk about your use of slang in YA novels, and your choice to create an online glossary to accompany your book?
One of the most impressive things about young people is how inventive they are with language. They are always exploring and pushing the boundaries of language. Since my young adult novels are in the realm of urban realism, it only makes sense to attempt to capture that linguistic genius. I don’t fret about it dating my stories because, one, I actually like the time capsule effect and, two, I still think that even though things may change and language evolves, a good story stands the test of time because at its core it has something to say about the human condition and social contracts, rather than trends or events. Being that Show and Prove is set in the summer of 1983 in the South Bronx, I wanted to be able to provide brief explanations of certain things without slowing down the pace of the story. It’s actually more of a cultural dictionary than an online glossary because it contains more than just terms. You can look up people, events, and concepts. I also liked the idea of making the novel more interactive since youth today prefer visual media and have high degrees of digital literacy. If they’re reading the novel on a tablet, or their smartphone is always within reach, I might as well take advantage of it and use it to keep them reading.
What do you think are some of the most important issues for teens to read about, and how do you address those ideas in your writing?
I think it’s incredibly important for youth to read about all the social constructs and their implications, both the ones that influence their own lives and those that they don’t experience. No matter what personal or social issue they might be grappling with or passionate about, five will get you ten that at the core of it is some “ism.” Folks like to put down “issue” books, but I dare you to find a compelling story that at its spine is not a statement about race, class, gender or any other social identity. The term “issue book” gets flung around as a pejorative, usually at writers from marginalized communities who are writing for their own youth, but Charles Dickens, J.D. Salinger, John Steinbeck etc. have written plenty of “issue” books.
What advice would you give one of your readers who wants to become a writer?
Read voraciously and read widely. Don’t confine yourself to one genre. Writers write and rewrite, so don’t think you’re done after the first draft. Or even the second or third one. Finally, get your work out there. Technology being what it is, you don’t have to wait until someone validates your story to publish it and make it available to readers. Validate your own story by showcasing your work, and when you receive feedback on it, focus on the criticism that makes the work better or encourages you to keep writing. Trash the rest. You’re not supposed to please everyone so if some comments seem inspired by jealousy, hate, some expectation that you write about certain things or not about others, or write in ways that don’t interest you, ignore it. Trust that you will know which comments are valid even if they’re not flattering and which are more about that person’s state of mind than anything you wrote. The most important thing is to be true to you. Be true to your voice, your experience, your point of view. It’s OK to learn from your favorites and experiment with how they write, but ultimately your goal should be to find your unique style, since that’s ultimately why you should be writing—to express yourself.
Sofia Quintero is a writer, activist, educator, speaker, and comedienne. She is also the author of Efrain’s Secret and has written several hip-hop novels under the pen name Black Artemis. This self-proclaimed “Ivy League homegirl” graduated from Columbia University and lives in the Bronx. Learn more about Sofia at SofiaQuintero.com.
About Show and Prove
Smiles was supposed to be the assistant crew chief at his summer camp, but the director chose Cookie Camacho instead, kicking off a summer-long rivalry. Meanwhile, the aspiring b-boy Nike has set his wandering eye on Sara, the sweet yet sassy new camp counselor, as well as top prize at a breakdancing competition downtown. The two friends have been drifting apart ever since Smiles got a scholarship to a fancy private school, and this summer the air is heavy with postponed decisions that will finally be made.
Raw and poignant, this is a story of music, urban plight, and racial tension that’s as relevant today as it was in 1983.