Nationally-recognized authors inspire young writers

Kekla Magoon, award-winning author of children’s and young adult books, recently visited campus.

She met with students in Rhona Trauvitch’s “Major American Authors” class to discuss her book How It Went Down (2014). The novel tells the story of Tariq Johnson, a black teenager shot by a white man, and how his loved ones struggle to make sense of the tragedy. In the aftermath of his death, everyone has something to say, but no two accounts of the events line up. In their own words, his family and community grapple for a way to say with certainty: This is how it went down.

Magoon’s visit was part of the Writers for Young Readers program, a collaboration between The Betsy South Beach and the FIU Department of English to bring nationally recognized, award-winning authors of children’s and young adult books to South Florida.

“I have never met the author of a novel that I was reading, so I was quite excited. Having the author to talk to is great because, not only can you understand the way they wrote the book, but you can discuss how it made you feel,” said Stephanie Soto, a marine biology major. “I love discussing the different emotions the novel brought out in me. Usually, you have to search online for theories as to why the author wrote something a certain way, so having her present was an awesome learning experience.”

Author Kekla Magoon meets with FIU students to discuss her latest book "How It Went Down" as part of the Writers for Young Readers program.

Author Kekla Magoon meets with FIU students to discuss her latest book “How It Went Down” as part of the Writers for Young Readers program.

The goal of the Young Readers program is to start a new conversation in literary study and work by placing each author into an appropriate English class at FIU and Miami-Dade County Public Schools to interact with students.

“This collaborative program is so exciting and uncommon because we’re circling back and bringing to campus the kind of authors who our college students still respond to, and probably read just 5-10 years ago when they were young adults,” said James M. Sutton, chair of the Department of English. “What’s more, young adult literature is actually very good and vibrant—beyond Rowling and Collins and Meyer, there’s a world out there. So much more than vampires and dystopias and schools of wizardry.”

The authors taking part in the week-long residency program also make an appearance at the Miami-Dade County Public Library System and represent wide-ranging genres and demographic areas in publishing, including contemporary fiction, historical fiction, humor, magical realism, African-American literature, Latino literature and LGBTQA literature.

“We all become readers at home, not necessarily of Shakespeare or Melville or Joyce at age 10, but of more accessible young adult authors,” added Sutton. “In my case, I became a reader, curled up on a living room couch four hours at a time, with Madeline L’Engle and C.S. Lewis and Tolkien. Even as parents, when our own kids become young adults, we become young adult readers again.”

The program kicked off in the fall semester with Matt de la Pena and will continue this semester with Magoon, A.S. King and Lisa Papademetriu.