The Atlantic

Elizabeth Acevedo’s Work Is a Welcome Rarity in Young-Adult Fiction

The National Book Award–winning author writes complex teenage protagonists whose real-life counterparts have long faced literary erasure.
Source: Makeba Rainey / Stephanie Ifendu

T

he night that Elizabeth Acevedo’s debut novel won the 2018 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, the author celebrated by retreating into a familiar comfort. She headed straight uptown to her mother’s apartment that crisp November evening and treated herself to the aromatic meal that had been a hallmark of her New York City upbringing. “It was like midnight at that point. And I ate a bowl of sancocho while [my family] passed around the award and took pictures,” she said when we spoke recently. Pointing to an imaginary serving of the traditional, meat-and-vegetable-heavy stew her family eats in Harlem and on each trip back to her parents’ native Dominican Republic, she added: “I was like, ‘This is winning.’”

For many writers of color, including Acevedo, the past several years have ushered in a long-overdue cultural renaissance within publishing. In an industry, and genre, that has rarely elevated the work of people of color, Acevedo’s National Book Award win isn’t just a personal milestone. As one of to , Acevedo is also helping to shift the broader literary landscape. For readers of all backgrounds, books like Acevedo’s that focus on the everyday experiences of young people of color are their own reward.

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