10 Questions for Margarita Engle

October 4, 2017
FROM LEFT: JILL TATARA FOR TIME FOR KIDS; MARSHALL W. JOHNSON

1. What is it like to be the Young People’s Poet Laureate?

It’s an amazing thrill and a responsibility. I have a theme for my two years: peace. There are so many forces working against peace. Young people are the only possible peacemakers of the future. When I write for them, I’m communicating with the future.

2. You have written about Cuban history but never before about modern Cuba. What changed?

The renewal of diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba, after more than half a century of isolation and hostility, was huge for me.

3. How does Forest World take up those recent events?

The story is set in 2015, when relations between the U.S. and Cuba were finally improving. There are many Cuban and American families, like the ones in the book, that have been divided—where a brother and sister have never met.

4. Are the siblings, Edver and Luza, based on real people?

Edver is very American, and Luza is very Cuban. I am both: one Cuban parent and one American parent. Their meeting felt like a family reunification, for myself, of those two sides of me.

5. Isn’t it unusual for a poet to be so interested in science?

I trained as a scientist. Poetry lets me express my love for nature along with the practical side of science. You’d be amazed how many scientists write poetry.

6. What science is in Forest World?

I write about biodiversity, among other things.

7. The forest in the book is magical. You don’t mind mixing science and magic?

In Spanish, lo real maravilloso means “marvelous reality.” It’s not drawing distinct lines between reality and imagination, as we tend to do in modern American society.

8. Why do you prefer writing in verse rather than in prose?

It makes me happy. I enjoy the experience of writing stories by linking shorter poems.

9. What do you hope readers take away from Forest World?

Curiosity about the natural world. And desire to learn more.

10. What’s your goal for readers?

For them to experiment with either reading or writing poetry.