Teen Press Corps journalist Ivy sat down to chat with Fat Angie author e.E. Charlton-Trujillo over Skype. We loved hosting the author in partnership with the Texas Teen Book Festival last month, and we have some signed copies of her books available in-store or bookpeople.com!
Interview by: Ivy
Ivy: If you could only read one book for the rest of your life, what would it be?
e.E. Charlton-Trujillo: You really started with the hardest possible question, didn’t you? Probably, oh this is so hard, The House on Mango Street… I didn’t get to read that until I was in college. I grew up in South Texas… didn’t have a lot of access to books so I didn’t get to read books that were representing Mexican-American characters like myself. So reading that book I was like, wait a minute, you can use English and Spanish, you can write about a culture that is yours. Because everything I had read… really was a lot of Caucasian characters. It was the first time that my mind went “Boom!”, exploded with enthusiasm to see that you could tell those stories, and that they’re really worthy and beautiful stories, and that they’re hard sometimes.
Ivy: How did you get interested in writing?
e.E.: When I was growing up in Mathis, Texas, population 5,239… I wanted to have three things at the age of four: I wanted to be a writer, I wanted to win an Oscar and I wanted to be the drummer for Kiss. Those were the goals, #childhood goals… my brain was flooded with ideas, but there was no creative mentorship, there were no books for me to read to help me hold on to that want and dream. There was so much information saying be afraid to be who you are… Literally, I would go to the bathroom because it was my private place and I’d take a pen or marker and the toilet paper was my infinite notepad. And I’d get knocks on the doors “Boom, boom, boom, boom!” and it’s like “Out, now. Out.” and there’s just piles of story on toilet paper… So thank you, Charmin, for your support of my dumb writing.
Ivy: Why is representation, of any kind, important to you?
e.E.: Well, it’s everything to me. So, how old are you?
e.E.: So you’re sixteen, right. Clearly, I’m older… but the point is when I was your age, which is such an adult thing to say, but really, when I was your age, growing up in Texas, the representation wasn’t there for me… I was an adopted, Mexican-American with pale skin, so I’m passing as Caucasian, living with a Caucasian family though, in a town that’s predominately Hispanic, but was predominately empowered by a Caucasian and sometimes racist mentality. So, with representation, I think about how different my life and lives of my peers would’ve been… I felt alone… and what happens if you don’t feel so alone? It doesn’t solve all the world’s problems, but it’s a gateway into being able to look inside and think “Okay, someone else similar to me is having this experience.” And then for people who are not those people of color, they’re reading those stories and developing empathy, they’re looking at that and saying “Whoa, wait a minute, what? I didn’t see it this way!”… you have to see who they are inside so we can bridge that gap of hate and fear… What if we take books and we create a way in which we can look at that fear and talk about it and not just build up these ongoing walls that separate us?… and it’s not either-or, it doesn’t have to be all people of color or all Caucasian books, there’s room at the table for everyone to have Jell-O after dinner, everybody can have dessert, can have the entree, it’s about saying every can sit at the table and have their own story.
Ivy: What is your advice for young writers?
e.E.: To write with authenticity. And that means write what you know, and write it without fear because that thing, whether it’s a poem or short story… there are a lot of young people I meet who are actively writing novels, or if they’re writing fanfiction or if they’re writing on Tumblr, I don’t care where it’s happening, but write with authenticity… your characters should be people you care about. If you’re not passionate about your story no one else is going to be. You have to know it the way you know your best friend always chews the same gum and always pushes their hair to the side the same direction, you have to know it that way. And you have to be unafraid to make a lot of mistakes… Don’t be afraid to fail. In fact celebrate the failure, because that’s where the success is going to come from… it’s like playing basketball, which I did a lot of. At first, your jump shot is kinda sucky, but as you practice and practice and get your form down it just becomes backboard or net. And it’s the same with writing. It’s like a muscle. You just have to, even if it’s a sentence a day, just get it down. So yeah: be fearless, make mistakes, it’ll happen in revision.
Ivy: What do you want young people to get out of reading your books?
e.E.: I want them to feel seen and heard because I write about many different kinds of characters… most importantly though, I want them to feel like they can tell their story. Because I didn’t feel that growing up. I wanted to tell my story but I grew up in an abusive home, I grew up in a tough town where it wasn’t really encouraged and I want every young person who reads my books… I want them to read where it says “Tell your story.”… because you’re the reason why I’m doing this. And it seems kinda ludicrous, but I don’t care if you do it on Snapchat, or YouTube, or TikTok, whatever you do: Don’t be silenced… I want them to see that regardless of skin tone or class or whatever that your story matters. I think when we’re silenced that’s when we run into trouble because we keep it all in. And plus, think about it, say after this conversation you feel empowered to go write a story… and then you went up to a friend and were like, “Hey do you want to read this?” and they read it and all of a sudden they’re having an experience around it. We never know how we’re connecting those pieces sometimes… But in the end, I want my books to create conversation, I want them to entertain, and of course, I want them to empower young people to be heard. That’s it, I wanted that so, so bad and I want that for every young person I meet. The shirts I was wearing on the tour said, “Your story is a revolution” and I believe it! The revolution is being heard, it’s not being silenced. This isn’t about politics, this is about being human and being heard.