This Wednesday, November 9th, the Big Read will have the joy of hosting author Matt de la Peña at Hope College at Jack H. Miller at 7:00 pm for our Author Event.  Matt de la Peña’s book The Last Stop on Market Street is the featured Little Read book for 2022.  To preview this much anticipated visit, let’s deep dive into Matt de la Peña.  

Photo Credit: Heather Waraksa

  Matt grew up in National City, a community of San Diego.  On his childhood in National City, de la Peña said in an August 2022 interview with the San Diego Union -Tribune: “[w]e struggled at times, but so did everyone around us, and you got the sense that the community was looking out for you. National City left a huge impression on me. It has found its way into many of the books and essays I’ve written.”  His family would then move to Cardiff-by-the-Sea, another neighborhood near San Diego, which de la Peña described as being “quiet and sleepy”.  In the same interview, de la Peña credits the two contrasting neighborhoods for helping merge his writing voice.  

While being an esteemed author now, Matt de la Peña has stated his struggle with reading as a child.  In his formative education years, he was written off as a student who “couldn’t read” and didn’t finish a book until after high school.  De la Peña had his literature epiphany after a college professor made a deal with him to read a specific book in its entirety before his graduation.  In an article with NPR titled “Sometimes the ‘Tough Teen’ is Writing Stories”, de la Peña revealed that he started and completed this novel during a trip for a basketball game.  He was astonished to have finished a book, and within two days.  The book had struck de la Peña emotionally and the words on the pages stayed with him.  The book: The Color Purple by Alice Walker.  This led de la Peña to discover works by Toni Morrison and Zora Neale Hurston.  

De la Peña understands the importance words have on people, especially children.  It pays to have everyone represented in literature.  In 2012, de la Peña visited a school in Tucson, Arizona after a student and the school librarian raised money to cover his speaker fee.  The student had just finished Mexican Whiteboy by Matt de la Peña.  In a 2012 article with the New York Times titled “Racial Lens Used to Cull Curriculum in Arizona”, the state legislature of Arizona had upheld a law that aimed to remove Mexican- American studies from the curriculum as law makers determined the subject matter to be “anti-white”.  This made books like de la Peña’s Mexican Whiteboy illegal to teach in the classroom, even as the book promotes cultural identity with its usage of “Spanglish” and the tension children feel being bi-ethnic or biracial.  His visit continued, but had deeper political meanings during a time in 2010 where Mexican-American studies were being targeted and curriculums restricted.  In the article, de la Peña is quoted at the event to have said: “If you are Mexican-American, embrace it.  If the classes are offered, take them; if not, try to get them back.”  Much to the surprise and joy of the students attending the event, de la Peña donated his speaking fee to supply each student with a copy of Mexican Whiteboy.   According to the New York Times article de la Peña stated, “I want to give back what was taken away.”  

Matt de la Peña is an advocate for literature and its ability to allow individuals to connect to the underlying message.  When talking about his book Love, de la Peña has said he wrote it for the kids who are not sure who they are yet, and that the confusion is okay.  Mexican Whiteboy offers connection to those like the main character who are half-white, half- Mexican in a community that try to push those into one box or the other.  Literature is at its most influential when it’s in the hands of the readers.  In his work, we see how de la Peña uses his craft to allow readers to identify with the words on the page and then feel inspired to act from there.  It’s our joy and pleasure at the Big Read and Little Read to host Matt de la Peña this week and to offer a platform to share with our community the importance of reading that de la Peña continually supports. 

Published by Gabrielle Crone

Class of 2024 Major | Creative Writing Program | IES Writer’s Program Location | Dublin, Ireland

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