A Happy Ending for 3 Terp Authors
Alums Simultaneously Have New York Times Bestsellers With Young Adult Books
A trio of Terps has bounded onto much-coveted turf, taking three of the top 10 spots on the June 21 New York Times’ list of bestselling hardcover books for young adults.
Award-winning authors Elizabeth Acevedo MFA ’15 and Jason Reynolds ’05 were joined by debut novelist Roseanne A. Brown ’17. The University of Maryland graduates’ books have more in common than their writers’ alma mater: Each focuses on the experiences of people of color, as do most of the list’s titles in recent weeks.
“For any university, having an alum writer on the bestseller list-of-record is a point of pride; for a university to have not two, but three such writers is truly remarkable,” said Joshua Weiner, English professor and director of the MFA program in creative writing, from which Acevedo graduated. “That the three Maryland writers to grace that list are BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) writers of a generation whose works are reaching readers of all ages marks UMD as a unique hotspot in the nurturing of rising literary talents.”
Acevedo’s third book, “Clap When You Land,” is rooted in her own experiences. On Nov. 12, 2001, American Airlines Flight 587, departing John F. Kennedy International Airport for Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, crashed in Queens soon after takeoff. Two hundred sixty-five people died, nearly 90% of them Dominican.
At the time, Acevedo, the daughter of Dominican immigrants, was living in her native New York City with her family. “Everyone knew someone who was on that plane,” Acevedo says. “We had neighbors who were on that flight. My father had friends.”
That plane crash is the foundation of her acclaimed novel in verse that explores the relationship between two sisters—one in New York, the other in the Dominican Republic—who don’t know about the other’s existence until their father dies in the accident.
“Young adult (fiction) has a lot of possibilities for being experimental in interesting ways and also still reaching young people who I think really need to see examples of themselves existing in literature as whole and loved and tender beings,” said Acevedo, who won a National Book Award for her debut novel, “The Poet X.” “Clap When You Land” is No. 9 on The New York Times’ list.
“Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You” by Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi, offers a nonfiction perspective. It’s an adapted version of Kendi’s 2016 book “Stamped from the Beginning,” which explores the history of anti-black racism through the lives of five historical figures. When Kendi wanted to modify the book for a school-aged audience, he turned to Reynolds, who earned an English degree before becoming a leading writer of young adult fiction.
“‘Can I make this something cool?’” Reynolds told NPR he wondered when Kendi, founding director of the Antiracist Research and Policy Center at American University, approached him about the project. “Because there’s currency in cool … I wanted to try to figure out how to make this really complex thing that has all this information that he gave the world, how do I take it and make it feel like a fresh pair of Jordans.”
The book is now No. 2 on the New York Times’ bestseller list.
Brown, who majored in journalism, rounded out the group with her novel, “A Song of Wraiths and Ruin,” a fantasy set in the fictional city-state of Ziran, where teenagers Malik and Karina must kill one another to bring back relatives from the dead—even though they find themselves falling in love.
The book, Brown said this week, was inspired by “mental health stigma in the black community and (by) fantasy … I realized I had never encountered a book that combined both.” The novel, which was No. 10 on the list last week, also pays homage to stories from Brown’s native Ghana. “I had always wanted to read a novel that felt like the epic fantasies my family had told me growing up,” she said.
For Brown, young adult fiction represents a rare chance for optimism, especially in difficult times. “My favorite thing about this age category is its inherently hopeful nature,” she said. “No matter how bad the ending of a book is, the characters still have their whole lives ahead of them. As a writer, this gives me space to tackle lots of dark, heavy topics, because real teens are experiencing all the trauma adults experience, but in a way that shows we are stronger than that which seeks to tear us down.”