Interview with American author Mackenzi Lee:
TEENS ARE LOOKING FOR STORIES THAT FEEL RELEVANT TO THEM
The U.S. Embassy in Bolivia sponsored the visit of award-winning young adult literature author Mackenzi Lee, who offered talks to full houses during the La Paz International Book Fair and in the city of Santa Cruz in early August. At the end of her visit, Mackenzi kindly agreed to answer some questions that summarize her experience in Bolivia.
What impressed you the most during your recent visit to Bolivia?
The kindness of everyone I worked with and how much work they had put into accommodating the unique situation of having a non-Spanish speaking American writer doing events for Spanish speaking Bolivians. The trip was very well run and very well put together and I was surprised and impressed by how not stressful it was. Travel, particularly international travel, for events is generally stressful even when it goes perfectly smoothly but this whole trip was so well put together and I felt so well taken care of that I was able to stay in a very good headspace.
What was the most challenging question you received during your visit?
Anytime I get asked to recommend a book, I forget every book I’ve ever read. It’s a consistently hard question for me, and harder in another language because I have no idea what books are available in that language.
Why do you think your books appeal to readers all around the world?
I have no idea but I’m glad they do. I’m shocked and delighted by how popular they are in Latin America. I do think themes of identity and conversations about sexuality and gender are universally things teenagers are wanting to engage in and are looking for outlets for his.
Do you agree with the idea that teenagers and young adults don’t read anymore?
Definitely not! The turnout at the book fair alone is proof of that. I think teens are looking for stories that feel relevant to them and include people and stories like them instead of the same stories of stuffy old white guys doing things we’ve had forever, so if they don’t’ find them in literature, the look elsewhere. There will always be a market for stories but if kids aren’t finding the stories they want in books, they’ll look for them elsewhere.
What’s your advice for coping with fear of writing?
Do it anyway. The hardest things about writing are starting before you feel ready because no one ever feels ready and finishing what you start. Everyone is worried that they aren’t good enough. You just have to trust yourself and do it anyway.
What would you advise to young aspiring writers?
Start before you’re ready. Finish what you start. Be persistent.
(Photo credit: Jorge Ibáñez, El Deber)