South Texas Independent School District (STISD) welcomed authors Jennifer Brown and Viola Canales in January to speak with students about the novel-writing process and shed some light on what exactly inspired their creativity.
What was unique about the visit was how both authors used their surroundings and experiences to craft their stories. They spoke to students about how, when they were their age, they experienced and stored away the stories that they would later use in their writing. They reminded students that those experiences can shape and mold them into the people they want to be.
“I was born and raised in McAllen,” Canales said. “When I first started school I knew no English and then I went on to Harvard College and Harvard Law School. I’ve been in the military as a Captain, and I’ve had all these opportunities. I would say that the reason for that is because I became a very good student, and the message I wanted to bring is that education is the key.”
Canales has published two books, with a third due later this year. Her first book, a collection of short stories entitled Orange Candy Slices: And Other Secret Tales, was published in 2001. Her debut novel, The Tequila Worm, is her best known work, winning a 2006 Pura Belpre Author Award.
Canales, who is extremely well-traveled, maintains that it was her upbringing in the Valley and the people who raised her that kept her grounded. She wanted students to know that those stories make who you are and will always be there for them.
“What I want students to walk away with is to stand up and be proud of who they are,” Canales said. “You are loyal, and you help out and are part of a web of relationships. There’s such a deep, rich, and vibrant culture to the Valley, and being a part of that really resonates with students.”
The district also welcomed young adult novelist Jennifer Brown, who talked about how her experiences with bullying in high school fueled her creativity and served as an outlet that later became a full-time career. For her, harnessing a talent, whatever it is, can help students fulfill their potential.
“To get out there and talk to students about bullying and other various things I talk about in my books is so important,” Brown said. “For a lot of kids it really opens them up; they get to hear that they’re not alone and they’re not the only one who has gone through that, and that maybe you can turn out ok in the end.”
Brown is the author of four young adult novels. Her debut novel, Hate List, was released in 2009 and received three star reviews and was selected as an American Library Association (ALA) Best Book for Young Adults, a Voice of Youth Activists (VOYA) “Perfect Ten,” and a School Library Journal Best Book of the Year. Her second novel, Bitter End, received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and VOYA and is listed on the Young Adult Library Services Association’s (YALSA) 2012 Best Fiction for Young Adults list.
Bullying serves as a central theme in many of Brown’s book because she went through some in her younger years. Now she makes a point to let students know that there are ways to deal with it.
“I mentioned it in one of my speeches - if you’re going through stuff - whatever it is - you may be able to turn it into a story one day, as a way to speak to other people who are going through what you are going through or what you’ve been through to reach out and help,” Brown said.
Both authors wanted to leave students with the idea that one should never let go of the stories of their lives.
Additional information about Viola Canales can be found at here or here.
Information about Jennifer Brown can be found on her website.