I’m thrilled to welcome Margarita Engle as our guest this week! In March, Margarita won the Nonfiction Golden Kite Award for her memoir Enchanted Air, a gorgeously-written account about growing up as a child of two cultures—the United States and Cuba. Enchanted Air has also won a Pura Belpré Award, a Lee Bennet Hopkins Poetry Award, and a Walter Award Honor, among other accolades.
Originally trained as a botanist and agronomist, Margarita has published sixteen books for young people and amassed numerous awards, including a Newberry Honor for The Surrender Tree. When not writing, Margarita voluntarily hides in the wilderness to help train her husband’s search and rescue dogs.
Margarita joins us today from California to tell us about her next book, Lion Island, and, of course, to let us know What Was on Margarita Engle’s . . .
Desk: My desk is huge. It’s the size and shape of a door. It is home to my computer, printer, and lots of sticky notes and scribbled index cards, as well as my favorite botanical scripture, Psalm 52:8, and two little glass bottles, one filled with beach sand from Cuba, and the other with red soil from a Cuban sugarcane field.
To-Do List: This is a really hard question. I love lists. I write them every day, but I never manage to do everything on any of the lists, so I end up revising them the next day. If I get one thing crossed off a list, I feel great satisfaction. Maybe that’s because so many of my projects are long-term and general, such as ‘write,’ ‘research,’ etc. I also have a travel wish list that never gets shorter as I get older, because I keep wanting to return to places I’ve already visited, in addition to seeing new places.
Catalogue of Favorite Poems: I have so many favorites that I will only offer one, to keep this particular list from growing wings and flying off the page: En Mi Verso Soy Libre (In My Verse I Am Free), by Dulce María Lyon.
Garden Path: We live in California’s agricultural Central Valley, where it’s too cold in winter for truly tropical plants to survive, but we do have some subtropical citrus, as well as apricots and peaches. We walk the dogs in a pecan grove behind our house every morning. Walking is the source of natural rhythm for most of my poetry.
Stovetop: I don’t like to cook. Fortunately, my husband recently retired, and he’s taken over the kitchen. I only go in there to eat now. He’s a great cook. I’m very lucky.
List of Best Places to Hide From Rescue Dogs: In summer, Soquel Meadow, on Highway 41 below Yosemite. In winter, Ahwahnee Regional Park on Highway 49. In the fall hunting season, Road 3, Shaver Lake, because it’s a wildlife refuge, so my chances of getting shot are reduced. Usually I wear green to blend in with my surroundings, so that I’m harder for a dog to spot visually, but in hunting season I wear the brightest magenta I can find, hoping to appear human rather than deerlike or bear-shaped.
Release Schedule: LION ISLAND, Cuba’s Warrior of Words, is my next young adult verse novel, scheduled for an August release by Atheneum/Simon & Schuster. It’s about the youth of Antonio Chuffat, a Chinese-African-Cuban messenger boy who documented the nonviolent freedom struggle of indentured Chinese laborers on the island during the late 1860s and early 1870s. It was also a time when Chinese-Californians were fleeing to Cuba to escape anti-Asian violence in Los Angeles and San Francisco, so these stories are interwoven.
MORNING STAR HORSE/El Caballo Lucero is a bilingual middle grade historical fantasy which begins in Cuba and ends in San Diego. It’s about the Raja Yoga Cuban Kids, war orphans who were brought to a truly unique school in Pt. Loma at the beginning of the twentieth century. It’s scheduled for this autumn, by HBE Publications, a wonderful new small press.
In 2017, I have picture books and an adventurous middle grade verse novel set in contemporary Cuba.
To keep up to date with Margarita Engle, visit her website at margaritaengle.com or stop by her Facebook page at Margarita Engle.
If you are interested in buying Enchanted Air, click on the book-link below.
Other books by Margarita Engle include:a
Lovely interview, Margarita and Sandra! Congratulations on LION ISLAND and MORNING STAR HORSE/EL CABALLO LUCERO! I’m looking forward to reading both books.
Thank you, Lyn!
Sandra, what a wonderful interview. Margarita is such an inspiration, and so prolific! I’ve enjoyed reading many of her books in the past, and I’m sure I’ll enjoy these as well.
Thank you, Kate!
Sandra, it was wonderful to discover this interview as I’ve been reading a lot of Engle this semester as I spin down the rabbit hole of the Picture Book Intensive at VCFA. I found myself thinking about how it is as important to learn about how a person structures their lives, as it is to discover their working process. I am going to tidy my somewhat smaller desk and be more aware of where each of my tchotchkes have come from. Beach sand and red soil is much more selective than my current chaos.
Amanda! It is wonderful to see you here. Lucky you to be in the VCFA Picture Book Intensive AND to be reading so much of Margarita’s work. Hoping to bump into you soon in person!
Yes, me too! Let me know if you are ever on this side of the pond.