Sunday, September 21, 2014
YOLO COUNTY NEWS
99 CENTS

Prize-winning author will discuss her Cuban, American roots

By
From page A1 | February 05, 2013 |

Author Margarita Engle, a winner of the Newbery Honor for children's literature, listens as Jodie Kim, 5, reads a poems titled "My Pink Kitty" at Korematsu Elementary School's Family Writing Night in September. She worked with students and parents as they created poems in the Japanese "tanka" style. Engle's books include "The Surrender Tree" and "The Poet Slave of Cuba." Fred Gladdis/Enterprise photo

Writer Margarita Engle, who has won several prizes for her books for young readers, will make two appearances at UC Davis as part of the “Words Take Wing” program on Tuesday, Feb. 12. Her morning presentation at Freeborn Hall is sold out, but space remains for her 7 p.m. talk at the Student Community Center on campus.

Tickets are $15 general and $7 for students. Her lecture will be followed by a book sale and signing.

Many of Engle’s books are set in Cuba.

“My mother is from Cuba, my father is American, so when I was a child, during the years before the revolution, I spent summers in Cuba visiting my extended family,” she told The Enterprise in a recent interview.

“The title of my talk at Words Take Wing — ‘Two Cultures, Two Wings’ — reflects how those childhood visits to Cuba affected my development as a person and as a writer … one complete person with two different sides, Cuban and American, with two languages, of course.

“After the missile crisis (in the early 1960s), I was not able to return to Cuba for a number of years. But as an adult, I have been able to go back many times. One of the legal ways to visit Cuba is to visit relatives. So Cuba and California — the homelands of my two parents — have influenced me a great deal.”

As a girl of Cuban heritage attending school during the missile crisis, when the possibility of nuclear war between the United States and the Soviet Union appeared high, she was sometimes “perceived as belonging to the enemy” by classmates.

“There was a time when we wondered if Cuban Americans would be interned,” much has Japanese-Americans were interned during World War II. But that never came to pass.

Engle’s childhood visits to Cuba, and her desire to know more about the country where her mother and her grandparents were born, spurred her to write several books set in Cuba at various points in the past. Her book “The Surrender Tree,” which was a Newbery Honor Book in 2009, is set during the late 1800s, when the Cuban people fought three wars of independence over 30 years, trying to break away from Spanish colonial rule.

In response, the Spanish built “reconcentration” camps, where Cubans were rounded up. The conflict finally ended when the U.S. intervened and Spain let go of Cuba, but the Cuban people gradually realized they had passed from one form of foreign domination to another.

The story of “The Surrender Tree” focuses on Rosa, a nurse who hides in caves and aids those who have been injured in the independence struggle. The story is told in the form of short poems, from the point of view of several different characters — a narrative style that Engle uses in several of her books.

“I try to distill it down to emotional essence,” she said. “The book is for middle school and high school students; I’m hoping that they’ll be asking what it felt like to live at that time. This is what I was asking myself — how did it feel? I want the history to be accurate, but what I want to present on those friendly, uncrowded pages is (a character speaking in) the first person. I like to write in first person, imagining those voices and points of view.”

Other books by Engle that are told in such a way include “Hurricane Dancers,” a tale involving Caribbean pirates and shipwreck, set in the 1500s; “The Poet Slave of Cuba,” set in the early 1800s; and “The Firefly Letters,” describing the visit of a female Swedish novelist, who is also an early advocate of equal rights for women, to Cuba in the 1800s.

“I am fascinated by people who have been largely forgotten by history,” Engle said.

She reads diaries (sometimes unpublished) written in past eras, which she borrows from the Library of Congress or university collections, and she finds references to a person whose story interests her.

“If I can find where they talk about what they had for breakfast, or what they thought when the soldiers came through, I like those daily details,” she said.

She also reads histories and other nonfiction accounts to steep herself in facts and figures relating to the era she has chosen.

“I don’t just write about Cuban history. I am American, too, and I studied botany and agriculture, and I like to write about scientists and nature. I also have books coming out about search and rescue dogs — my husband is a wilderness search-and-rescue dog handler. I sometimes go out (in a wild area) and hide so the dogs can practice finding someone.”

Engle’s most recent effort is “The Wild Book,” which she also considers her “most personal.” It tells the story of her grandmother Josefa (“Fefa”), who was born in 1901, and developed “word-blindness,” which modern Americans might call dyslexia.

“In my Words Take Wing talk, I will be describing my grandmother’s childhood, and the way each person is unique, and has a different way of learning,” Engle said. “Reading and writing were a struggle for her. She felt smarter when she danced.

“In my talk, I will also be talking about how I chose to write about people that I admire. And usually what I admire is the courage that they showed, making hopeful choices in times that seemed hopeless.

“The settings for my books are often very difficult historical situations, but I’ll find some historical figure who did something amazing despite the difficulties. And I know kids are making choices in difficult situations every day. I hope they might be inspired reading about these people.”

Engle said she also will talk about her mentor, Tomás Rivera, a Mexican-American poet and educator who became the chancellor at UC Riverside.

“His parents were migrants who followed the crops,” Engle said. “He learned to read by finding magazines in junk piles. He was a wonderful influence.”

Engle visited Davis last fall, driving from her home in Clovis to lead a family writing night event at Korematsu Elementary School.

“I read to the children, then they sat with their families and wrote their own poems, and then took turns reading them aloud,” she said. “We had a binding machine there, and each family left with a bound anthology of their own poems. And all that fit into an hour and a half.

“It was inspiring to hear the children reading what they had written.”

— Reach Jeff Hudson at jhudson@davisenterprise.net or 530-747-8055.

Comments

comments

.

News

Elementary school counselors: necessary, but poorly funded

By Anne Ternus-Bellamy | From Page: A1 | Gallery

 
 
Bet Haverim hosts High Holy Day services

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A1

 
Teams assess damage as wildfire burns

By The Associated Press | From Page: A2 | Gallery

 
Driver arrested for DUI after Saturday morning crash

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A2

Help raise funds for juvenile diabetes cure

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

 
Jewelry, art for sale at Senior Center

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

Davis Community Meals needs cooks

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

 
Send kids to camp!

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

 
Da Vinci awarded $38,000 for restorative justice program

By Anne Ternus-Bellamy | From Page: A4

Hawk Hill trip planned Sept. 30

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

 
UC campus chancellors granted hefty pay raises

By The Associated Press | From Page: A4

 
Outdoor yoga marathon celebrates community

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A5

Wise words

By Sue Cockrell | From Page: A12

 
.

Forum

Awareness is key to this fight

By Creators Syndicate | From Page: B5

 
We’re living in the Golden State of emergency

By Debra DeAngelo | From Page: A6

Options for protection come with flu season

By The Associated Press | From Page: A6

 
Are we there yet? Not enough hours in the day to goof off

By Tanya Perez | From Page: A6Comments are off for this post

Paso Fino — it’s not worth it

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A10

 
Archer will get my vote

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A10

It’s time for Davis Scouts to stand up for what is right

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A10

 
Mike Keefe cartoon

By Debbie Davis | From Page: A10

Building something at schools’ HQ

By Our View | From Page: A10

 
Don’t sell city greenbelt

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A10

Paso Fino project is flawed

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A10

 
Speak out

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A11

Maybe David can beat Goliath again

By Lynne Nittler | From Page: A11 | Gallery

 
.

Sports

DHS gets on its Morse to beat Edison

By Thomas Oide | From Page: B1 | Gallery

 
JV Blue Devils drop low-scoring affair

By Spencer Ault | From Page: B2

 
Wire briefs: Giants rally falls short in San Diego

By The Associated Press | From Page: B3

Four local swimmers qualify for Olympic Trials

By Enterprise staff | From Page: B3

 
Republic FC’s fairy tale season continues

By Evan Ream | From Page: B3 | Gallery

‘We’re a way better team’ than record, says UCD’s Shaffer

By Bruce Gallaudet | From Page: B4 | Gallery

 
UCD roundup: Aggie men pound Pomona-Pitzer in the pool

By Enterprise staff | From Page: B4

Davis 15-year-old making a splash in European F4 series

By Bruce Gallaudet | From Page: B8 | Gallery

 
.

Features

.

Arts

‘Ladies Foursome’ adds shows

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

 
.

Business

UCD grad’s startup earns kudos at TechCrunch event

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A7

 
Styles on target for November debut

By Wendy Weitzel | From Page: A7

MBI hires VP of marketing

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A7

 
Taylor Morrison unveils new Woodland community next weekend

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A9 | Gallery

Rob White: What is an ‘innovation center’?

By Rob White | From Page: A9

 
.

Obituaries

Carol L. Walsh

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A4

 
.

Comics

Comics: Sunday, September 21, 2014

By Creator | From Page: B8