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Erin Entrada Kelly: Writing a deaf character with authenticity

Award-winning author Erin Entrada Kelly wanted to make her character Valencia, who’s deaf, as authentic as possible. That meant learning more about a community and an experience she knew nothing about.

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Erin Entrada Kelly

Folktales, Fantasy, Fiction

Erin Entrada Kelly

Erin Entrada Kelly is the author of chapter books for tweens and teens, including Hello, Universe — winner of the 2018 Newbery Medal. Her books explore coming of age with sensitivity and honesty, dealing with issues such as bullying, building friendships, and feeling like an outsider.


In “Hello Universe” the character Valencia is deaf, and I am a hearing person, and I don’t have a lot of experience with hard of hearing or deaf communities. So knowing that it was very important to me to depict her authentically, respectfully, and three-dimensionally. Especially right now as more marginalized voices are coming forward. I was very aware, to almost the point of panic, that I was writing outside of my community. So I knew I needed to do, and I wanted to do a significant amount of research. And so I reached out to the American Society for Deaf Children . And through Beth Benedict, there I was connected to a woman named Gina Oliver, and Gina is a deaf advocate. She is an author herself, and she wrote a book about going to school in the mainstream as a deaf student. So I read the book of course, and then I actually met her, and she was so welcoming, and inviting, and encouraged me to ask any question. Even if it was embarrassing or or made me look foolish, and I knew that I would have to ask them, even if I did look foolish. Because she had to be depicted authentically. I also took sign language classes at the Deaf-hearing Communication Center in Swarthmore, PA. And although Valencia doesn’t use sign language everything that that when you’re researching all of it informs. Right? So I was able to interact with the instructor and ask her questions. Research was a key part of specifically Valencia, it’s a key part of any book, but anytime you’re writing about something that you’re not familiar with obviously, you have to do a significant amount of research. And it’s a great process, not just because it it adds a richness and authenticity to the book, but just a curious person by nature. So there’s hardly any topic that you could ask me to research that I won’t find interesting. So just the value of researching, even if I don’t use all the information is energized and I love it. So I love to learn new things, and you know, I hope it it forms the story well.