Magdalena Zenaida admits to being many things: a writer, an artist, and above all things, she says, the “mother to a little one who is the source” of her creativity. She has also traveled the globe, living in London, Boston, Colombia, and Ann Arbor, where they now make their home. Zenaida earned a Bachelor of Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies (BAIS) from the University of Miami in Spanish literature and International Studies, and a BA from the University of Michigan in English literature. She finally found her love of teaching as part of non-profits and community organizations in the United States and abroad.
Zenaida continues to teach workshops independently and at 826Michigan’s writing center in Ann Arbor, while she also continues to look forward to further travel. She has worked as a freelance writer for publications such as Scene Magazine, WhereBoston, The Ann Arbor Observer, The Ann Arbor News, and the 826 blog, TheStaple. Her bilingual poem, “Tu Propio” was chosen for The Michigan Daily’s Annual Literary Issue in 2011.
An Honest Boy, Un Hombre Sincero (Laredo Publishing) is Zenaida’s first children’s book. In it, she tells the story of the Latin American hero, José Martí, exposing children to how he fought for Cuba’s independence not only through political action, but also through poetry and essays. The book is illustrated by veteran children’s artist Gastón Hauviller of Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Zenaida has written a lovely book, one that not only entertains through engaging language and vibrant artwork, but also educates, a book that says to children: you can help make this world a better place and the written word is one of your most powerful tools.
Magdalena Zenaida agreed to sit down with La Bloga to chat about her book and inspirations.
DANIEL OLIVAS: Was there a moment in your life when you realized that you wanted to be a writer, or was it a gradual development?
MAGDALENA ZENAIDA: From a very young age I found writing a very natural way to express myself. I originally hoped to be a poet, freelance journalism was just where I had the most early opportunities. Devoting myself to being the writer I wanted to be was something I didn’t really have the courage to do before my daughter was born because I needed to find that faith in my voice.
DO: Though you’ve written for adults as a freelance writer, why did you decide to make your first book one for children?
MZ: Again, I think it goes back to my roots in poetry. I love having a distilled, emotive way of conveying something, and it hadn’t occurred to me before that children’s literature very much relies on that style. Also, I love the idea that children’s books reach an audience at the very cusp of forming a perspective on the world.
DO: What inspired you to write a children’s book on a very adult subject, the political fight for Cuba’s freedom as embodied in José Martí? Did you learn of Martí when you were young?
MZ: I had a lot of familiarity with Cuban history because I lived in Miami for so long. I also had familiarity with Martí, because when I was teaching in South America, he was a great figure for inspiring an intellectual pride in Latin American children. Overall though, I loved the idea of writing about him because I knew he truly believed in the creative power of children from a global perspective, that freedom from any kind of oppression is always going to be reached through learning and friendship.
DO: The artwork by Gastón Hauviller is quite lovely and evocative. Could you tell us a little about how he came to illustrate your book?
MZ: I feel very fortunate that I had a vision for the style of my book, and my publisher found him! She told me that Gaston worked with “guantanamera” playing in the background- and when they sent me the illustrations, I was amazed to find images and colors exactly as I dreamed they would be.
DO: What do you hope children get from your book?
MZ: I would like for children to hold to the message how valuable they are, that by cultivating their values now, they are the greatness of the future...that all of the legacies that seem too great or too mature for them now, are for them to own as they grow.
DO: Are you thinking about your next book or are you going to take a break and focus on An Honest Boy, Un Hombre Sincero for now?
MZ: I am in a constant state of writing. There are little scribblings all over my home. For adults, I am toying with different ideas of different formats, perhaps a collection of essays. And for children, I have an idea lingering about one of my other heroes, Paulo Freire, but that also would take some time to research and distill into a message for young readers.
IN OTHER LITERARY NEWS:
Frequent guest essayist for La Bloga, Alvaro Huerta, is happy to announce the publication of his first book, Reframing the Latino Immigration Debate: Towards a Humanistic Paradigm (San Diego State University Press). With a foreword by Dr. Juan Gómez-Quiñones, UCLA Professor of History, and photos by Antonio Turok, acclaimed photographer, the book consists of short, non-fiction essays on Latina/o immigration in the U.S., including key policies and programs, such as “Operation Wetback,” the Bracero Program (where Huerta's late father served), Arizona’s inhumane laws and draconian, Congressional immigration bills.
From the Publisher:
Brash, intelligent, and possessed of a searing rhetorical passion, Alvaro Huerta's Reframing the Latino Immigration Debate asks readers to reassess critical political and cultural issues unfolding along the U.S./Mexico border. Paired in this volume with the striking photography of Antonio Turok, Huerta's words move readers "towards a humanistic paradigm" in a work that emerges as must-reading for students, scholars, and policy-makers alike.
Praise for Reframing the Latino Immigration Debate:
"A passionate and insightful account of that complex condition we refer to as immigration. Huerta brings to the fore the deeper meanings of us all, people on the move." —Saskia Sassen, Ph.D., Robert S. Lynd Professor of Sociology, Columbia University
"Huerta's perceptive prose and Turok's evocative photographs make this a book to remember and treasure." —Michael Dear, Ph.D., Professor of City & Regional Planning, University of California, Berkeley
"Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…," cries the Statue of Liberty with silent lips. Alvaro Huerta's compassionate essays complete her sentence. The message is loud and clear: the wretched have a place in America, for it is they who make it worth." —Ilan Stavans, Ph.D., Sebring Professor in Latin American and Latino Culture, Amherst College
"Blending searing social critique of xenophobic pundits, unjust laws and mendacious politicians with creative, heartfelt personal essays about family and love, Alvaro Huerta weaves a tapestry for immigrant rights in the early twenty first century. The personal is political, and this collection of short essays interspersed with memorable photographs by Antonio Turok fights the good fight." —Pierrette Hondagneu-Sotelo, Ph.D., Professor of Sociology, University of Southern California
"Brick-word by brick-word, Alvaro's essays construct the paradigm that makes evident that Latinos are foremost simply part of the human race and integral to the history, struggles, and fabric of the United States. As such, his advocacy essays affirm time and again that Latinos deserve the same humanistic respect and dignified respect that all hard-working and family embracing inhabitants of this land should receive." —Federico Subervi, Ph.D., Professor of Journalism & Mass Communication, Kent State University