Elizabeth Acevedo Soars to New Heights with 'Clap When You Land'

Posted by Sharon on May 1, 2020
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Elizabeth Acevedo burst onto the literary scene in 2018 with The Poet X, a novel-in-verse that draws on her own experiences as an award-winning slam poet. The daughter of Dominican immigrants, Acevedo was inspired to write the novel when she was working as an eighth-grade English teacher and looking for books that more closely reflected the lives of her students. 

The Poet X drew immediate acclaim, winning the 2018 National Book Award for Young People's Literature and a Carnegie Medal. (It was also a finalist for a little prize you might have heard of—the Goodreads Choice Awards.) With the Fire on High, about a young woman balancing school, motherhood, and ambition, came out in 2019 and was a Goodreads Choice Award nominee for Young Adult Fiction.

Acevedo's newest novel, Clap When You Land, features a from-the-headlines plot of two sisters who learn about each other's existence after their father dies in a plane crash. The novel follows Yahaira's and Camino's dual narratives as they navigate grief, anger, and hidden family secrets together.  

Acevedo spoke with Goodreads about reclaiming the voices of young women from shame, what she learns when she narrates her own books, and tips and tricks she suggests for readers who find poetry intimidating. 

Goodreads: Your first book, The Poet X, is about a girl who explores her identity and her place in the world through slam poetry. Can you tell us a bit about how you got started with writing and performing slam poetry yourself?

Elizabeth Acevedo: I began writing through the form of songwriting. I had a notebook I kept as a child where I would put all of my rap lyrics. When I got to high school, an incredible teacher, Abby Lublin, approached me about joining the poetry club at school. There I learned that what I’d been writing was also poetry and that I had the qualities that are required of one to enjoy performing in a slam: a competitive nature, an affinity for language, and a desire to jump on the stage.

GR: The Poet X has won a bunch of literary prizes, including a National Book Award and a Carnegie Medal. How has your life changed (or not) with this recognition?

EA: I always struggle to answer this question; I’m not sure I’ve had the ability to stop and observe my life over the course of these last two years, so pinpointing the changes is difficult for me to do. In many ways, my life is the same: I live in the same house with my partner of ten years. I still plant basil on my balcony. I still attempt to knit something more complicated than a scarf. I call or WhatsApp my mother every day.

But I also recognize that the number of people checking for my work has changed drastically. There are a lot more eyes on me and my work, and that kind of pressure has been something to which I’ve had to acclimate. How does one write in such a way that it fulfills the contract one has with one’s readers while also not limiting the kinds of stories a single author can tell?

GR: How did the idea for Clap When You Land come to you?

EA: Clap When You Land is based on true events of a flight that crashed on its way to the Dominican Republic. Initially the story was only written from a single point of view, Yahaira’s, but something wasn’t ringing true. The writer Ibi Zoboi (who gets a shout-out in a later question!) suggested I bring in the other sibling’s perspective, and it opened up and deepened the story I was trying to tell: What happens when two sisters lose the largest figure in their lives but gain each other?

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GR: Clap When You Land splits its action between New York City and the Dominican Republic. Was it important to you to feature a non-U.S. setting?

EA: It was important for me to show the Dominican Republic. I wanted to complicate and expand people’s perspective of the Dominican Republic.

GR: Your books often revolve around complex family relationships and the things people feel they can or cannot say to their parents, grandparents, children, or siblings. Can you tell us more about the importance of that theme in your work?

EA: I am highly invested in writing about, toward, and through shame. Often the things we feel we cannot say to those we love revolve around the shame we may have learned from that same figure. I am not writing in the direction of answers when I write about shame, but more so I’m wondering how folks can craft a definition of themselves in the silences they keep as well as in the bravery of what—and when!—they choose to speak up. Specifically, because I center young women in my work, it’s important to agitate how silencing happens and how voice might be reclaimed.

GR: Your fans love that you perform your own work for the audiobook versions. You also narrated the audiobook for Ibi Zoboi's Pride. Can you tell us more about what it's like to do these recordings? Was there anything about the process that surprised you?

EA: I have enjoyed narrating so much! It’s given me the chance to flex my performance muscles but in a setting that is still new and challenging for me. Narrating is no joke! There are long days, and it requires rehearsing voices, practicing pacing, and finding different emotional registers.

The most surprising thing is feeling like I know my work really well, and exactly how it should sound, and then my audiobook director will suggest a different way of saying something, and it’s like I learn something about the writing I hadn’t ever seen was there. I’m out here keeping secrets from myself! Thankfully, whether it’s my own work or another author’s, I learn a lot about the writing process from that reading-out-loud process.

GR: With the Fire on High is coming to the big screen! Is there anything you can tell us about the film? Has it been challenging to adapt your work to a different medium?

EA: Unfortunately, my lips are contractually zipped for now, but my producer and I are ensuring the heart of the film matches the heart of the book, even if plot points might change a bit.

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GR: Who are some of your favorite poets?

EA: Some of my go-to poets are Hanif Abdurraqib, Natalie Diaz, Safia Elhillo, Lucille Clifton, and Danez Smith.

GR: Some people find reading poetry to be quite intimidating—can you offer some tips and tricks for getting started?

EA: Poetry is meant to be read out loud! If you’re struggling with accessing a poem, try reading it out loud and see if your ear catches a collection of sounds or specific phrasing that allows an entry into the text.

Don’t worry over much about whether or not you’ve figured out what a poem means. I never find that’s the most helpful question to answer when I read a poem. Instead, I think it’s fruitful to ask the following of a poem: "Where does the language become urgent? What are the images that stand out the most? Is there phrasing here that stops me in my tracks, and if so, what is that doing? Can I pinpoint a literal situation?"

Like most things in life, not every poet is for every reader. Perhaps what is intimidating is the style or direction of the poet. It’s OK to keep trying new kinds of writers to see who is speaking to you right now. And maybe you’ll return to an intimidating poet later and will be able to engage differently with their work.

GR: Finally, what books have you been reading lately that you just can't stop recommending? Any upcoming releases you're excited about?

EA: I devoured Jennifer Ashley’s Death Below Stairs historical mystery series; it was the perfect pandemic-relief read. Justina Ireland recently dropped Deathless Divide, a sequel to Dread Nation (easily my favorite YA book of 2018). I’m really excited for Nate Marshall’s poetry collection Finna. Julia Alvarez’s first novel in a decade, Afterlife, comes out soon, and I can’t wait for it to be discovered by readers.


Elizabeth Acevedo's Clap When You Land will be available in the U.S. on May 5. Don't forget to add it to your Want to Read shelf. Be sure to also read more of our exclusive author interviews to get more great book recommendations.

Comments Showing 1-22 of 22 (22 new)

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message 1: by Christina (new)

Christina Hackey Can't wait to listen to Clap When You Land!

message 2: by Francette (new)

Francette August Cant wait to read it!!!!

message 3: by Classy (new)

Classy I am very excited to read Clap When You Land.

message 4: by DayDay_chalupa (new)

DayDay_chalupa Omg I love all her books , all the ones I read were a 5 star for me and I’m pretty sure this one is gong to be no different

message 5: by Alexis (new)

Alexis Brantley I can't wait for her Clap When You Land book, I'm inspired by Elizabeth Acevedo and her work. I love you Elizabeth! You rock 🤟🏾!

message 6: by Karina (new)

Karina I don’t know what I’m more excited, her new book or her movie adaptation for “with the fire on high”. I my sisters Emoni and Angelica :)

message 7: by Michaela (new)

Michaela Johnson I just adore Elizabeth and I can’t wait until Clap When You Land drops it is on my TBR list for May❤️

message 8: by Esme (new)

Esme Bisbee Elizabeth Acevedo is such an amazing women! With The Fire on High coming out on DVD I think it might just be some of the most exciting news and I can not express how excited I am to read Clap When You Land!! 💚

message 9: by Kristie (new)

Kristie Can’t wait for the book to arrive and for the Fire on High movie!!!

message 10: by Elyse (new)

Elyse Can't wait for the new book!! I loved The Poet X and With the Fire on High! I didn't know WtFoH was being adapted! Psyched!!

message 11: by Zaraj (new)

Zaraj I loved Poet X. I could really relate to her feelings and who she was. I hope Elizabeth Acevedo never stops writing, for her books are true inspiration.

message 12: by Nicole (new)

Nicole Fantastic interview! I am thoroughly looking forward to many more books from Elizabeth Acevedo!

message 13: by Deni (new)

Deni Honey I adore Elizabeth Acevedo. Loved reading this interview! Will have to check out Jennifer Ashley's murder mystery series--sounds good!

message 14: by Maereads (new)

Maereads I read the book and it was amazing like phenomenal , good job Elizabeth

message 15: by Timmira (new)

Timmira i cant wait to read this book when i get a chance

message 16: by Bookdragon (last edited May 08, 2020 06:00PM) (new)

Bookdragon I loved with the fire on high and I cant wait to see the movie and read this new book. I will probably love it!

Melissa ~ Missy (FrayedBooks) Very excited to listen to Clap When You Land and I had no idea With The Fire On High was becoming a movie, wow!!! Looking forward to that!!

message 18: by Tiffany (new)

Tiffany Looking forward to reading her new book. I love that she's bringing our stories to the world! They need to be read and heard!

message 19: by Lisa (new)

Lisa Stott I absolutely LOVE Elizabeth Acevedo! She is side by side with Jason Reynolds for me. As a literacy coach in a large urban district, I am always recommending her books and kids EAT them up!! Sorry I missed you when you came to Lawrence, MA. If you're every this way again (Lowell/Lawrence MA), I guarantee that won't happen again!!

message 20: by Jillian (new)

Jillian Waters I’m so here for this ❤️

message 21: by Angie Leonie (new)

Angie Leonie Looking to read her latest to get me out my book funk, June has to look up right now.

message 22: by Gretchen (new)

Gretchen I love Elizabeth Acevedo’s work. I really recommend listening via audio. For me, a white woman, it deepens the read because I am hearing the story in a culturally rich voice instead of the overly white voice of my own head.

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