Erin Entrada Kelly: Her world of words

Nature lovers, mean-spirited bullies, the shy and kindhearted and what-nots make up your typical neighborhood—or the universe. Isn’t this something we can all relate to?

Admit it, at some point in your life, you have either met one of them, or you are one of them. Others would labor on experienced encounters in solitary reflections. Erin Entrada Kelly on her part spinsit off to a moving story for every soul.

When different worlds conjoin in an unexpected turn of events, would it be a disaster?

Would it make or break an experience? Where would your sympathy lie?

In Erin’s middle-grade-level novel “Hello Universe,” readers get to experience different narratives that are skillfully woven together in one composite riveting story—that of Virgil, Kaori, Valencia, and Chet.

Awarded with the John Newbery Medal for outstanding children’s book for 2018, “Hello, Universe” is diverse and the characters full.

It’s a must-read for children and grown-ups as well as grown-ups with children.

Not resting on her laurels, Kelly has finished a new book, “You Go First,” which will be released next month. It is described as “an engaging exploration of family, bullying, spelling, art, and the ever-complicated world of middle school friendships.”

While she was raised in the United States, the Newberry medalist traces her roots to the Philippines,with her Filipino mother regularly sending her videos showing the beauty of Cebu.

Erin wishes to see the waterfalls in her next visit.

She fell in love with words at an early age of eight and her first short story was published in Story Philippines.

In an email correspondence with the Play! pool, Erin talks about her formative years growing up in the US and how it was to be the only kid who had an immigrant parent.

A square peg in a round hole, Erin stopped trying to fit in and instead embraced her Filipino roots. After all, a world doesn’t have to change its components to be part of the universe. (BHQ)

As an author of international fame, why did you decide to infuse Filipino influences in your books? And are we expecting an upcoming homecoming with you for your fans here in the Philippines?

I grew up in an area where there were few Asians, and even fewer Filipinos.

As far as I knew I was the only kid who had an immigrant parent. I wanted desperately to look like everyone else, so it took me a long time to embrace my Filipino roots.

Once I did, I wanted to share it with everyone else—especially young people who feel out of place in their communities.

What’s life like as a Filipino author based in the US? We hear that authors in the US have a close relationship with each other.

The community for middle-grade writers—those who write for ages 8 to 12—is incredibly close-knit and supportive.

That’s especially true for writers who represent marginalized groups.

I’m thrilled to be associated with fellow Fil-Am authors like Mae Respicio and Marie Miranda Cruz, both of whom have debut middle-grade novels releasing this year.

Marie’s book “Everlasting Nora” is set in the shanty town inside the North Manila Cemetery; I’m thrilled that readers will be exposed to a culture they know little to nothing about.

I also provided a blurb for Renee M. Rutledge’s “The Hour of Daydreams,” an adult novel packed with magic.

Have you been to Cebu? How was the experience?

Yes. It was a wonderful experience. My favorite part of the trip was staying at the Carmelite monastery, where my auntie is a nun. I’ve been to many places, but there is nowhere else in the world like Cebu.

Tell us about your mom.

My mother came to the States to marry a man she barely knew. She left everything behind.

She was the first in her family to immigrate to America from the Philippines.

She had to navigate a completely foreign landscape with very little support.

My mother is the sun and the moon.

What has your mother shared to you about Cebu?

She sends me videos of Cebu constantly so she can share the beauty of Cebu. She is very proud to be there.

Any place in Cebu or the Philippines that you wish to visit?

Where to begin! I would love to go on an excursion and see all of Cebu’s peaks and waterfalls.

And I would love to visit Manila, too, because I’ve never been.

Favorite Cebuano word?
My favorite Cebuano word is anak. Because—no surprise—that’s what my mother calls me.

Favorite Filipino food?

Pancit and lumpia!

What’s a distinctly Filipino trait that you like?

I grew up in the US, where youth is celebrated about all else. People are afraid of getting old. They do anything they can to reverse the signs
of aging.

So one of my favorite distinctly Filipino traits is ”Mano po” to show respect.

How did your writing career begin?

I started writing when I was very young—about eight years old.

As I got older, I bought books on craft and learned everything I could about writing.

My first short story was published in Story Philippines in 2008. From there, I wrote more and more short stories.

It helped hone my craft and eventually I was able to finish complete novels. Everything went from there.

How did you come up with the story idea for “Hello, Universe?” Why did you choose friendship as the theme?

All of my ideas begin with a character. In this case, it was Virgil. The story grew from there. I don’t typically choose my themes—they just come out of the story organically.

Is there a character in the book who is based on someone you know in real life?

I believe that all of my characters are based off people I know in some small way.

Who were you reading when you were young?

Lots of Judy Blume.

How do you deal with writer’s block?

I honestly don’t get writer’s block. I have the opposite problem. I call it “writer’s storm.”

What’s your take on books being made into films?

I think it’s wonderful when books are made into films because it only further supports the book itself.

In my opinion, each should be considered based on its own merit.

They are two different art forms. I know people get upset when films don’t wholeheartedly emulate the books, but I view them as two separate entities with shared inspiration.

How did you react when you learned that “Hello Universe” won the Newberry Medal? Who did you tell first?

I was in absolute shock. I |still am. The first person I told was my partner.

How was it working with Filipino author and illustrator Isabel Roxas?

I can’t say enough good things about Isabel. She’s incredibly talented. It was an honor to work with her. Hopefully the relationship continues!

Do you have a favorite Filipino book or author?

Dean Francis Alfar is my favorite Filipino author. As for books, I highly recommend “The Hour of Daydreams” by Renee Rutledge.

What’s your message to your Filipino fans?

Thank you, thank you, thank you! And I hope to see you very soon.

TAGS: her, words, world
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