Sunday, September 11, 2016

"Lion Island"

Margarita Engle is the Cuban-American author of many verse novels, including The Surrender Tree, a Newbery Honor winner, and The Lightning Dreamer, a PEN USA Award winner. Her verse memoir, Enchanted Air, received the Pura Belpré Award, Golden Kite Award, Walter Dean Myers Honor, and Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award, among others. Her other books have received multiple Pura Belpré, Américas, and Jane Addams Awards and Honors, as well as a Claudia Lewis Poetry Award, and International Reading Association Award. Her most recent picture book, Drum Dream Girl, received the Charlotte Zolotow Award for best picture book text.

Engle lives in central California, where she enjoys helping her husband train his wilderness search and rescue dog.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Lion Island: Cuba's Warrior of Words, and reported the following:
Page 69 is a blank page between sections, so it is not typical of Lion Island, Cuba’s Warrior of Words. This young adult historical verse novel is inspired by the memoir of Antonio Chuffat, a messenger boy of Chinese, African, and Cuban ancestry who documented the nonviolent freedom struggle of indentured Cantonese laborers. Like so many 19th century Cubans, Antonio’s parents worked in the sugar fields, and were housed in slave barracoons, where Chinese men married Congolese and Yoruba women, creating an entirely new and unique blended culture, with distinctive linguistic, spiritual, musical, and culinary traditions.

If we look at page 68 instead of the blank 69, we find a brief poem in the voice of a fictional girl named Fan, who is leaving a rural shack to venture into Havana, where she hopes to become a singer.
On the Night Before I Run Away

I chop
wild fennel,
stir garlic
into soup
in a kettle,
toss in a few
and inhale
the spicy aroma
of my rapidly growing
Fan and her family are among the five thousand Chinese-American refugees who have fled anti-Asian violence in Los Angeles and San Francisco. She and her twin brother Wing are important characters in this novel, because in his memoir, Antonio Chuffat credited los californios with bringing concepts of freedom and democracy to Cuba, where islanders were at war with colonial Spain, fighting simultaneously for independence and an end to slavery.

I consider page 68 to be typical because it is both wistful hopeful., with a trace of defiance These are aspects of nearly every verse novel I’ve ever written, because my characters are usually inspired by the diaries, letters, and other first person accounts of historical figures who lived in times and places where young people had to make difficult choices. In Fan’s case, claiming the freedom to sing means leaving her family.
Visit Margarita Engle's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Margarita Engle & Maggi and Chance.

--Marshal Zeringue