Author Interview: Guadalupe Garcia McCall

guadalopeGuadalupe Garcia McCall, author of Under the Mesquite and Summer of the Mariposa, discusses the inspiration for her books and experience with speaking engagements. April is National Poetry Month, so start planning now to book Guadalupe for next year’s celebration.
What inspired you to write Under the Mesquite? Why did you choose to write in verse?
I was inspired to write Under the Mesquite by my students, who didn’t know how to write poetry and wanted me to “show them” how I did it. The original manuscript for the novel was a collection of poems I had written in my class, modeling for my students how to use memories to write narrative poems. I didn’t know I was writing a novel in verse until my editor at Lee & Low Books, Emily Hazel, suggested that I turn the collection of poems into a longer narrative, essentially a novel in verse in the style of Out of the Dust. Once I turned it into a narrative, then came the difficult task of addressing the theme of loss. I didn’t know if I could write that book, the one in which the main character’s mother died, because I had lost my mother when I was 17, and it changed me in a way I couldn’t quite explain. But in taking that step, in creating this fictionalized retelling of my own family’s struggle, I was able to gain fresh perspective, to understand that losing my mother had both devastated and strengthened us as a family and me, personally, as a young woman, that I still carried my mother’s love with me, and it was that love that had saved me. Together, Emily and I decided to tell the story of Lupita’s loss in the most authentic, most truthful way, so that others who are struggling with loss might be helped by it.

Would you share some notable experiences you’ve had at your speaking events?
There have been many moments when students, parents, even faculty members and staff have been moved to tears by the story of Lupita and often they come by and want to hug me or share their story with me after the presentations. But there was one young man last year, who, during the question and answer session, raised his hand and said, “You are my hero.” His teacher, who was sitting beside him that evening, raised her hand and said that he had a similar story to mine. He was an immigrant child who had recently lost a parent and he was still trying to overcome the loss and find the courage to move forward and make the dream that his lost parent had for him come true. He was hurting and he just didn’t know if he would ever heal. Well, it both broke and touched my heart to hear it, to know that this young man who was looking up at me had found hope in my book and my presentation that night. The experience was humbling as I realized how much the book meant to him, but it also made me want to keep doing these presentations even more. It made me want to reach all the others who are hurting, to extend that little leaf, to tell them that there is light in that darkness, that there is healing after loss, that love and faith will see them through, and that their spirit is strong enough to make beauty and art out of that pain.

What are some of the “teachable” moments in your book that make it work well for a speaking engagement?
FortSmithPublicSchools_Nov2014_GGM.5I think one of the things about Under the Mesquite is that it resonates with people of all ages because it is more than a book about a child immigrating with her family and chasing the American dream. Under the Mesquite is a book about loss and courage, and that appeals to people of any age. The novel is about the struggles that we face when life takes a devastating turn and alters what we hoped and dreamed for ourselves. It is about looking for and finding the resilience and determination to go on when we are hurting. It is about the healing power of love. One of the teachable moments comes at the end, when Lupita finds the courage to move forward with her life, knowing that the love her mother had for her is still with her, and that love which will carry her through and help her succeed in life. There is nothing more powerful on earth than the love of family, and one of the most admirable things we can do in life is to respect that of our loved ones by living a life full of courage, integrity and conviction, and honoring them with the choices we make in memory of them.

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