I am so excited to have been able to interview Sonia Manzano! She’s the person we all feel like we know personally, but who has many larger than life accomplishments. In her role as Maria on Sesame Street, she has been named one of the 25 Greatest Latino TV Role Models Ever. Her first young adult novel, The revolution of Evelyn Serrano was a 2013 Pura Belpre Author Honor book and was selected for the CCBC Choices 2013 list. She is elegant, gracious and quite a role model for us all. I hope you’ll enjoy this interview as Sonia shares a little about what has inspired her to do all that she does.
Congratulations on being named a Pura Belpre Author Honor book!
Thank you so much for agreeing to an interview! I hope it helps a few more readers find your book.
Let’s start with a few short questions to get things started.
Hello and thank you so much. Here goes!
Where did you grow up?
The South Bronx
Do you have any pets?
Never as a kid but as an adult I had a black lab. But it really belonged to my husband.
What do you enjoy watching on television?
I mostly watch movies and a show called Girls on cable. I love British dramas on PBS, and admit that I am slightly addicted to old films on Turner Classic Movies. I guess I prefer cable and PBS because I hate commercials!
Meat or vegetables?
I love both and mostly stick to chicken.
Are there any books that stand out in your memory from your childhood?
Fifteen by Beverly Cleary, Charlottes Web, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.
What book(s) are you in the middle of reading right now?
I read a lot. Just finished Pinned by Sharon G. Flake. A book called The Street by Ann Petry. Rita Moreno: A Memoir, My Beloved World by Sonia Sotomayor. I’m re-reading Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt.
1969. Spanish Harlem. To what music would Evelyn be listening?
Joe Cuba, Ray Barretto and the timeless Stevie Wonder
How did you develop an interest in Puerto Rican history? Was it taught in schools? At home?
No, no, no! Puerto Rican history was never taught in school and though my parents had some rudimentary education in Puerto Rico in the 30’s and 40’s, I don’t think Puerto Rican history was taught there either. I must say it was The Young Lords and all the progressive groups of the Civil Rights era that bought Puerto Rican history to my attention.
How do you think things have changed from the 60s to today for young girls growing up in Spanish Harlem?
Can’t really say because I don’t live there. But what I noticed as I strolled the streets doing research for The Revolution of Evelyn Serrano, was that there were many South and Central Americans living in El Barrio as well as Puerto Ricans.
I heard you speak at the Joint Conference of Librarians Conference in Kansas City this past summer and remember you speaking about the inequity in the schools in New York and how much catching up you had to do to reach your full potential. I cannot imagine the emotions you felt when The revolution of Evelyn Serrano was named a Pura Belpre Honor book. Can you describe any of the emotions you felt?
Pura Belpre was such an icon even I knew of her in my un-literary household. Her stories with their Caribbean /Spanish sensibility intrigued me. I felt the tales had something to do with me but I wasn’t sure what. Surely, the Perez y Martina stories planted seeds of curiosity in me.
Needless to say I am thrilled to have been honored and feel I’ve somehow come full circle.
Will you write another teen book?
There is another teen book rumbling around in my head. I am working on a memoir for Scholastic now!
What does diversity mean to you?
To me diversity means many kinds of people (including young and old) solving problems together.