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Margarita Engle and the meaning of fireflies

Author and poet Margarita Engle explains what fireflies symbolize to her.

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Margarita Engle

Biography, Poetry, Novel in Verse

Margarita Engle

Margarita Engle is an award-winning author and poet whose novels written in free verse have brought to life fascinating and often forgotten characters from history, such as Juan Francisco Marzano, Rosa la Bayamesa, and Maria Merian. In this interview Margarita discusses her childhood memories of Cuba and the ways in which her quest for her own heritage led to the discovery of these unforgettable heroes and heroines.


I chose the title The Firefly Letters because Fredrika and Cecilia together would rescue fireflies from children who had captured them. And they would set them free again even though they knew they might have to rescue those same few fireflies a few minutes later if children recaptured them. In The Surrender Tree fireflies play a role too because they were actually an image of light where, as a girl is trying to escape from the re-concentration camp, she’s using a cigar to imitate the light of a firefly. And the children in Cuba do capture fireflies still and I imagine they do any place where they exist, capture fireflies and use them as little lanterns. But I think that they’re kind of a natural metaphor for … for a light of other sorts. For, kind of, trying to illuminate our own lives.