Author Interview, Simon Teen

Author Interview: ‘Wings In The Wild’ by Margarita Engle

On The Booked Shelf today we’re in conversation with Margarita Engle, award-winning poet and author, to discuss her 2023 Young Adult release WINGS IN THE WILD, in which Kirkus Reviews said the novel contains “lucious verse and beautiful descriptions of the flora and fauna [bringing] attention to the impacts of the climate crisis and the urgent need for change.”

Engle’s novel published on April 18, 2023 and if you’d like to learn more about her environmental romance novel-in-verse, read below!

Can you share what WINGS IN THE WILD is all about?

Engle: WINGS IN THE WILD follows Cuban teen Soledia who comes from a family of artists who protest injustice through their secret sculpture garden. However, when they get into trouble Soleida has to flee for safety finding herself in Costa Rica, where she meets Cuban-American Dariel, a musician and the two slowly build a relationship. Together they use their talents to raise awareness over the imprisoned artists while also advocating for the environment!

Where did the idea for this novel come from?

Engle: The love story and environmental aspects came from my own emotions and my scientific background as a botanist who cares deeply about reforestation and rewilding. The aspect of artistic freedom emerged from repressive events in Cuba, as well as increasingly authoritarian censorship in the U.S.

As a poet and author you’ve written numerous novels in verse! What drew you to write in this style compared to traditional prose?

Engle: I used to answer this question with complicated reasons, but the simple truth is that poetry makes me happy. I love the musical language of verse. I find comfort in the rhythms and lyrical language of poetry. I’ve discovered that I can tackle difficult subjects in verse, without feeling overwhelmed, because poetry is such a gentle yet powerful refuge for emotions.

Your YA novels often explore points in Latin-American history, but more specifically Cuban history that are sadly overlooked or rarely discussed! What inspires you to tackle the specific moments you write about?

Engle: Usually, there is a family connection. In the case of Wings in the Wild, I have relatives who found refuge in Costa Rica. I feel empathy for the Cuban refugees who walk to the U.S. from South and Central America. I’ve also visited Costa Rica for my own reasons over several decades, to study rain forest botany, and most recently to research my new National Geographic nonfiction picture book, Destiny Finds Her Way, How a Rescued Baby Sloth Learned to be Wild.

Who are some of your literary inspirations?

Engle: As a child, I loved Versos sencillos by José Martí. As a grad student, Tomás Rivera was my creative writing professor, and a groundbreaking bilingual poet. Alma Flor Ada was the first Cuban American children’s author who inspired me with her memoirs. Dulce María Loynaz is one of my favorite twentieth century Cuban poets. Joy Harjo, Richard Blanco, Mary Oliver, and Ada Limón are some of my favorite U.S. poets who write primarily for adults. Established children’s/YA poets who now inspire me include Jacqueline Woodson, Padma Venkatraman, Nikki Grimes, Marilyn Nelson, Janet Wong, Juan Felipe Herrera, Jorge Tetl Argueta, and Laurie Halse Anderson. Younger poets whose work excites me include Elizabeth Acevedo, Aida Salazar, and Ari Tison.

WINGS IN THE WILD handles similar themes seen within previous novels but the focal point here is contemporary activism! Can you delve into how that plays a role in the story?

Engle: For decades, I have avoided any topics that might result in getting me banned from visiting Cuba. However, repression against artists and writers has reached such a drastic level that I feel the need to speak out. Censorship in the U.S. makes this need for freedom of expression especially timely.

Your main characters Soledia and Dariel are drawn to the arts. What did you enjoy the most about exploring their narrative arcs through art (painting and music) as part of who they are?

Engle: I grew up around artists, and I love listening to music. Even though poetry is my only form of expression, I feel linked to other arts through the music of words and the visual nature of metaphors. Artists, writers, and musicians can bring hope to people who feel despair. That is why authoritarian governments are so terrified of freedom that poets are often the first to be arrested under any repressive regime.

What made WINGS IN THE WILD a memorable writing experience for you?

Engle: It was a thrill to write the love story laced with scientific facts, climate activism, and a touch of magic realism. No matter how difficult a situation is, people still fall in love. No matter how devastated a habitat becomes, there is still hope for rewilding.

In reading poetry I often find that what stays with me after that last page is the imagery the author evokes in such few words. What are the memorable descriptions or images you enjoyed bringing to WINGS?

Engle: I really enjoyed writing about a magical guitar that attracts birds and animals. It’s easy to forget that musical instruments (and books!) are made from trees, but when we remember, there is a sense that we’re experiencing a timeless forest just by touching wood or paper.

What have you been recently reading? & Any YA releases you’re looking forward to picking up (either new or backlist)?

Engle: I’ve been searching for unique feminist poetry, rereading the equine images in How to Triumph Like a Girl by Ada Limón. I can’t wait to read Saints of the Household by Ari Tison. I’m always looking for Indigenous voices from all over Latin America.

To conclude, any other writing projects you’re working on right now?

Engle: My next picture book is Water Day, about water delivery to rooftop tanks in a Cuban town where pollution, climate change, and deteriorating pipes have eliminated the luxury of running water in houses. It’s beautifully illustrated with paper cutouts by Olivia Sua. My next young adult verse novel continues themes from Wings in the Wild. It’s called Wild Dreamers, and it’s set in California, with a love story about high school kids who strive to create wildlife crossings for protection of mountain lions. Once again, it’s a STEM book that blends scientific facts and a lyrical touch of magic realism. The gorgeous cover art is by Gabi D’allesandro, who also did Wings in the Wild and Your Heart, My Sky.

Note: after the completion of this interview PW shared in their Rights Report for March 27 that an additional project from Engle is a picture book about “a music-loving girl in 1930s Cuba who discovers the melodies in the world outside her window” slated for a Fall 2024 release with S&S.

Author Bio: Margarita Engle is the Cuban-American author of many verse novels, memoirs, and picture books, including The Surrender Tree, Enchanted Air, Drum Dream Girl, and Dancing Hands. Awards include a Newbery Honor, Pura Belpré, Golden Kite, Walter, Jane Addams, PEN U.S.A., and NSK Neustadt , among others. Margarita served as the national 2017-2019 Young People’s Poet Laureate. Her most recent books are Your Heart, My Sky , A Song of Frutas, Light for All , Rima’s Rebellion and Singing with Elephants. Margarita was born in Los Angeles, but developed a deep attachment to her mother’s homeland during childhood summers with relatives on the island. She studied agronomy and botany along with creative writing, and now lives in central California with her husband.

Wings In The Wild by Margarita Engle is out now!

Cover Reveals, Simon Teen

Your Heart, My Sky by Margarita Engle Cover Reveal

As of August 6, BookPage revealed the cover to Margarita Engle’s upcoming Contemporary novel written in verse, titled Your Heart My Sky.

According to the article, the book follows “two teens who fall in love while struggling to survive during one of the darkest periods in Cuban history” during a point often titled “the special period.”

Engle mentioned that she was drawn to writing a novel set during this time because she “returned to Cuba in 1991, after a 31-year absence” and seeing “drastic hunger shocked and saddened” her. Wanting to write about it again after realizing that “most adult readers in the U.S. weren’t interested or didn’t believe,” she hopes younger readers are more “empathetic and compassionate.”

Alongside the cover reveal was also an excerpt.  The cover illustrator is Gaby D’Alessandro and designer is Rebecca Syracuse.

The people of Cuba are living in el periodo especial en tiempos de paz—the special period in times of peace. That’s what the government insists that this era must be called, but the reality behind these words is starvation.

Liana is struggling to find enough to eat. Yet hunger has also made her brave: she finds the courage to skip a summer of so-called volunteer farm labor, even though she risks government retribution. Nearby, a quiet, handsome boy named Amado also refuses to comply, so he wanders alone, trying to discover rare sources of food.

A chance encounter with an enigmatic dog brings Liana and Amado together. United in hope and hunger, they soon discover that their feelings for each other run deep. Love can feed their souls and hearts—but is it enough to withstand el periodo especial?

Your Heart, My Sky by Margarita Engle is set to be released on March 23, 2021!

Cover Reveals, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, Poetry

Great Goddesses by Nikita Gill Cover Reveal

Nikita Gill, poet and author, revealed through her twitter on June 11, the cover for her upcoming poetry book titled: Great Goddesses.

Her upcoming poetry collection, Great Goddesses: Life Lessons From Myth And Monsters, features retold legends and history of Ancient Greece.

According to Gill’s twitter post, the collection will focus on “reimagined tales from Greek Mythos about radical women, goddesses and monsters!”

Similar to her previous collections, Great Goddesses will also feature hand-drawn illustrations.

“Bestselling poet, writer, and Instagram sensation Nikita Gill returns with a collection of poetry and prose retelling the legends of the Goddesses, both great and small, in their own words.

With lyrical prose and striking verse, beloved poet Nikita Gill (Fierce Fairytales, Wild Embers) uses the history of Ancient Greece and beyond to explore and share the stories of the mothers, warriors, creators, survivors, and destroyers who shook the world. In pieces that burn with empathy and admiration for these women, Gill unearths the power and glory of the very foundations of mythology and culture that have been too-often ignored or pushed aside. 

Complete with beautiful hand-drawn illustrations, Gill’s poetry and stories weave old and forgotten tales of might and love into an empowering collection for the modern woman.

Great Goddesses: Life Lessons From Myth And Monsters by Nikita Gill is set to be released September 3, 2019!