Tuesday, April 25, 2023

Jennifer De Leon Interview - Borderless

Photo Credt: Matthew Guillory

Jennifer De Leon is an author, editor, speaker, and creative writing professor who lives outside of Boston. She is the editor of Wise Latinas: Writers on Higher Education, the 2015–2016 Writer-in-Residence at the Boston Public Library, and a 2016–2017 City of Boston Artist-in-Residence. She is also the second recipient of the We Need Diverse Books grant. She is the author of Don’t Ask Me Where I’m From and Borderless.


When/how did you realize you had a creative dream or calling to fulfill?
Second grade -- when I often asked my teacher, Mrs. Quirk, for more paper. But honestly, I would say middle school and high school. I loved writing and I would spend hours and hours writing in journals—stories, poems, diary entries. When I began sharing them with other people—friends, community, open mics, etc., I received positive feedback, so I kept going.

What was the single worst distraction that kept you from writing this book?

Has reading a book ever changed your life? Which one and why, if yes?
Yes! I’ll never forget the first time I read The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros when I was a freshman in college. I had never read a book by a Latina author until that moment when I was sitting on a blue chair inside the campus library. It changed my life. I didn’t know I was allowed to write like this…with some words in Spanish, with dialogue so crisp it felt like aunts and uncles were talking to me on the page. I was so inspired. It was the first time I really believed I might be able to do this, become an author.

Greatest thing you learned at school.
To advocate for myself.

Why is storytelling so important for all of us?
Stories offer different points of view and allow us to build empathy for others. But I can’t put it any better than the great Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie does in her famous TED Talk, “The Danger of the Single Story.” She says: “Stories matter. Many stories matter. Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign, but stories can also be used to empower and to humanize. Stories can break the dignity of a people, but stories can also repair that broken dignity….When we reject the single story, when we realize that there is never a single story about any place, we regain a kind of paradise.”

Can you tell us when you started BORDERLESS, how that came about?
In the summer of 2018, when I was pregnant with my second son, I could not keep my eyes off screens that showed children being torn away from their parents, especially mothers, at the U.S./Mexico border. It pained me not to join others at rallies and protest the “zero tolerance” immigration enforcement policy which affected many Central American people. My people. For me, the news was personal. Both my parents are from Guatemala. They moved to the United States in the 1970s in search of a better life, like so many immigrants do. Although I could not march in the streets in 2018, I decided to begin writing this novel: it was my form of protest.

  • 1. My research for this trip included traveling to the U.S./Mexico border to interview recent migrants from Central America.
  • 2. The nun in the last third of the book is based off a real-life person: she’s amazing.
  • 3. This was the hardest book I have ever written…so far!
  • 4. One of the characters, Oscar, is a gang member and he is also striving to become a stand-up comedian.
  • 5. I can’t sew! Not a button! But my main character, Maya, is a whiz with sewing. I watched so many YouTube videos and I took out so many books from the library.
  • 6. I have lived in Guatemala at different points in my adult life and I included many sensory details and images in the novel as a result.
  • 7. San Martín is a real bakery in Guatemala --and the food is delicious.
  • 8. I dream about writing a sequel to this book. And my first YA novel.
  • 9. As I was writing, I honestly didn’t know how the book would end.
  • 10. My friend helped come up with the title.
What is the first job you have had?
Babysitting. Then, when I turned 16, I worked at the GAP.

Best date you've ever had?
In the courtyard of the Boston Public Library in Copley Square.

What is the first thing you think of when you wake up in the morning?
Not every day, but some days, I think about what my father-in-law always said: to wake up and look forward to your day is to live a blessed life.

What do you usually think about right before falling asleep?
I hope my kids sleep through the night. J

What is the weirdest thing you have seen in someone else’s home?
A collection of Viking helmets (my friend’s father owned the collection and he got so mad when I touched one).

What is your most memorable travel experience?
Traveling to Zimbabwe with a group of American teenagers when I was sixteen years old. It was a community service trip, helping to build a medical clinic in a village outside of Harare. The experience was life-changing.

Caught in the crosshairs of gang violence, a teen girl and her mother set off on a perilous journey from Guatemala City to the US border in this heart-wrenching young adult novel from the author of Don’t Ask Me Where I’m From .

For seventeen-year-old Maya, trashion is her passion, and her talent for making clothing out of unusual objects landed her a scholarship to Guatemala City’s most prestigious art school and a finalist spot in the school’s fashion show. Mamá is her biggest supporter, taking on extra jobs to pay for what the scholarship doesn’t cover, and she might be even more excited than Maya about what the fashion show could do for her future career.

So when Mamá doesn’t come to the show, Maya doesn’t know what to think. But the truth is worse than she could have imagined. The gang threats in their neighborhood have walked in their front door—with a boy Maya considered a friend, or maybe more, among them. After barely making their escape, Maya and her mom have no choice but to continue their desperate flight all the way through Guatemala and Mexico in hopes of crossing the US border.

They have to cross. They must cross! Can they?

You can purchase Borderless at the following Retailers:

And now, The Giveaways.
Thank you JENNIFER DE LEON for making this giveaway possible.
1 Winner will receive a Copy of Borderless by Jennifer De Leon.

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