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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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.