May Spotlight: Letters in the Mail

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Neither rain nor snow nor climate change . . .

Twice a month, The Rumpus brings your favorite writers directly to your IRL mailbox via our Letters in the Mail from authors programs.

We’ve got one program for adults and another for kids ages 6-12. Take a peek at some of the writers whose words will be arriving next month, and sign up before May 2nd to receive their letters.

Letters in the Mail

Kemi Alabi is the author of Against Heaven, winner of the Academy of American Poets First Book Award, and coeditor of The Echoing Ida Collection. Their work has been published in Poetry, The Atlantic, Boston Review, The BreakBeat Poets Vol. 2, Best New Poets 2019, and elsewhere. Born on a Sunday in July, they live in Chicago, IL.

What book(s) made you a reader? Do you have any recent favorites you’d like to share?
I was the tiny kiddo at my school and local library carrying out giant stacks of books, never able to finish before their due date. Moderation is a lesson I’m still learning. That said, my earliest loves were Dr. Suess, then Roald Dahl (Matilda my clear favorite), followed by any series I could gobble almost endlessly (think Goosebumps, Baby Sitters Club, etc.).

I ingested poetry one loosie at a time, falling in love with poems before full collections. When I started going to open mics as an undergraduate in Boston, snagging the books of featured poets — whether hand-stapled chapbooks or press-published full-lengths, became the biggest deal. I carried around Anis Mojgani’s Over the Anvil We Stretched like it was a portal to the next world.

My recent favorites include Taylor Johnson’s Inheritance, Aurielle Marie’s Gumbo Ya Ya, Desiree C. Bailey’s What Noise Against the Cane, Deesha Philyaw’s The Secret Lives of Church Ladies, David Abram’s Spell of the Sensuous, and Jenny Odell’s How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy.

How did you know you wanted to be a writer?
I still don’t know that I want to be a writer. I just know I need to write. Even when I pivot away from the practice, I always come back.

What’s a piece of good advice or insight you received in a letter or note?
An old friend wrote, in all caps, “YOU DESERVE EVERY BIT OF LOVE ANYONE SHOWS YOU.”

Tell us about your most recent book? How do you hope it resonates with readers?
Toni Morrison said, “If you are free, you need to free somebody else.” Shira Erlichman once explained that there’s an unknowable “we” through the window of the “I.” This book was my way of writing toward freedom, from some very specific sites of my unfreedom, and my only hope is that it frees somebody — anybody — else.

Letters for Kids

Tracy Badua is a Filipino American author of books about young people with sunny hearts in a sometimes stormy world. By day, she is an attorney who works in national housing policy and programs, and by night, she squeezes in writing, family and pup time, and bites of her secret candy stash. She lives in San Diego, California, with her husband, family, and photogenic Maltese.

 

How did you fall in love with writing?
I fell in love with writing by first falling in love with books. My parents used to take me to the library all the time, and I’d leave with my arms full of new things to read. Eventually, with these stories swirling around in my brain, I tried writing and illustrating my own books on paper I’d taken out from our printer and stapled together. My family was so encouraging (and didn’t get upset that I was using up all our paper), and I even sold my books to my relatives and neighbors for a couple of quarters a piece.

What’s your best advice for creative kids?
It’s okay to make mistakes! This is all part of the process of figuring out what does and doesn’t work. Take a moment to reflect on why you consider something a mistake, and maybe you won’t repeat it in the future; maybe your work will only get better from there.

For me, my first published novel, Freddie vs. The Family Curse, is actually the sixth full one I’ve written, and whew—did I make some odd choices in those earlier stories. But it took me actually writing those stories from start to finish to begin nailing down the foundation of what would eventually become Freddie. Every draft taught me important lessons about my own writing – that yes, plot is important, and no, you probably shouldn’t spend half a chapter describing some random, pretty tree that doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of the story — so I’m a firm believer that sometimes getting things wrong is a necessary stepping stone to getting things right.

What is your best/worst/most interesting story that involves the mail/post office/mailbox?
My dad worked for the US Postal Service and got to drive one of those big semi-trucks sometimes! Once I got old enough to safely operate a clothes iron, I was responsible for ironing his blue postal uniform shirts. Back then, I thought that activity was a little fun, especially because I got to have the TV on in the background.

I do not consider ironing fun now.

Tell us about your most recent book? How do you hope it resonates with your readers?
My book Freddie vs. The Family Curse comes out May 3. It’s a contemporary fantasy for middle grade readers, and it’s about a Filipino American boy, Freddie, who must team up with the ghost of his great-granduncle to break the curse that’s haunted their family for generations. . . or be trapped in an amulet forever.

In addition to curses, coins, and being a Filipino American kid, this story is also about finding your own way to be brave. I hope young readers who’ve had missteps, stumbles, and bad days that felt way too long take heart from Freddie’s journey. I know life isn’t so simple that an attitude change can magically fix everything, but in Freddie’s case, it helps spur him into action. Sometimes, every little step you take into the sunlight can help.

And if readers are lucky enough to not have a family curse or as many bad days as Freddie, I hope they can at least share a few laughs at his funnier misfortunes (more than one incident involves underwear).

 

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Author photos by by Ally Almore and Amy Huang