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Matt de la Peña: Lots of students are secret writers

Award-winning author Matt de la Peña talks about the number of students he has met who are writing in secret.

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Matt de la Pena


Matt de la Peña

Matt de la Peña is the New York Times bestselling, Newbery Medal winning author of seven young adult novels (including Mexican WhiteBoyWe Were Here and Superman: Dawnbreaker) and five picture books (including Last Stop on Market Street and Love). 


There are a lot of writers out there who are similar to me. They’re writing in secret, because maybe they think that, I’m not a writer, I shouldn’t be writing. Or they’re a boy growing up in a machismo community where, oh, writing is too sensitive, you know, I would never want my dad or my uncles or my cousins or my teammates to find out that I write. Well, that’s okay to write in secret.

The reason that I wrote, and the reason why many people in these communities write secretly, is because they’re trying to figure out what they think about the world. One of the best ways to understand who you are and your place in the world is to write about it.

I wrote a lot of spoken word poetry about things that confused me. And to this day I think I do the same thing. There’s such a mistake when people think that writers write what they already know. I don’t think that’s totally true. I think writers write in the territory of something they know, but they’re drawn in that category to something that confuses them or a question they have.

So I always say it’s a mistake to go into a book with an answer. Really what you’re trying to do is pose interesting questions. Another way to say that is, the job of the writer is not to diagnose the characters; it’s just to list the symptoms and then let the reader have a chance to sort of figure out how they want to view that journey. But yeah, so I think writing is a great way to understand yourself and the people around you. And it can be secret, but ultimately you may want to share it down the road.