Slam poet and author Elizabeth Acevedo made history when she won the prestigious Carnegie Medal for her debut The Poet X. The British literary award goes to an outstanding English-language book for children or young adults and this is the first time in its 83-year history that it’s been awarded to a woman of color.
Acevedo, who is of Dominican descent, released The Poet X to tell the story of a young girl of color after seeing the lack of representation in the literary world. She dedicated the book to “all the little sisters yearning to see themselves.”
The Poet X is the story of Xiomara, a young girl of Dominican descent living in Harlem who uses slam poetry to express herself and retaliate against her strict religious upbringing.
According to the judges, the book is “a searing, unflinching exploration of culture, family, and faith within a truly innovative verse structure.” Xiomara “comes to life on every page and shows the reader how girls and women can learn to inhabit and love their own skin.”
This historic moment comes two years after the award was criticized for releasing a 20-book longlist of nominees that were all white writers.
The organizers launched an independent review and found “that the UK’s overwhelmingly white librarian workforce, who nominate books for the medal, were mostly unaware of titles by writers of color,” according to The Guardian. They also found that there were very few books by writers of color published in the UK.
Acevedo’s win is particularly powerful considering the book is about an Afro-Latina teen and written in verse by an Afro-Latina writer.
In addition to the Carnegie Prize, The Poet X is the recipient of the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, the Odyssey Award, the Michael L. Printz Award, and the Pura Belpré Award.
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Yesterday morning THE POET X received two of the greatest honors that can be bestowed on a book for young people in the United States: The Printz Award for best teen fiction published this year, and the Pura Belpré Award for a story for young people that affirms and celebrates the Latinx experience. My heart was pounding when the committee chairs called my name. My hands shook. I wrote this book at night, on train rides in my notes app, in between classes, first thing in the morning before teaching and at breaks in between grading, over the course of SEVERAL years. I didn’t know who would ever read it. I wrote it because I had to. And so I’m honored that whole time I thought it would never find an audience, when I didn’t even know what I was making, folks all over the world were whispering: “Me Me Me. I’ll read it, Liz. And I trust what it is you’re building.” I don’t put much stock in shiny things, but I do believe whenever my voice is amplified, I use that voice to speak truth and to uplift where I’m from—and if stickers let me do that, then let’s get it. And so while these stickers are on my book, I hope if you are making something, if you are compelled to craft a thing, if you are doubting, I hope you know these stickers are for you too. Someone is waiting for you to finish whatever gift you are making so they can see you. So they can see themselves. ✨
This year Acevedo released With the Fire On High about Emoni, a young, Afro-Boricua heroine juggling school, a baby, and her dreams of pursuing a career in the culinary arts.
“I write for us. I write for us to see ourselves depicted with tenderness and nuance and ferocity and unflinching honesty. I hope young Latinx readers, particularly if they are Afro-Latinx, see that they are allowed to be the heroes, they are allowed to live loudly and colorfully and with their whole selves. I hope they know they are seen and loved and that I’m rooting for, and cheering on, their triumphs,” she previously told HipLatina.