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Friday, September 30, 2022

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Matt de la Peña (Photo: Heather Waraska) Matt de la Peña (Photo: Heather Waraska)

Bravery in Writing

Matt de la Peña, a Newbery Medal-winning author who learned some of his skills at SDSU, is returning to help aspiring younger talent to break into the field.
By Leslie L.J. Reilly

Matt de la Peña is a Newbery Medal-winning author of young adult novels and picture books who earned his Master of Fine Arts in creative writing at San Diego State University in 2000.

His return to the classroom this fall gives de la Peña a chance to pay it forward by teaching students how to expand their creative writing skills in such genres as comedy, science fiction, and biography.

“I've always dreamed of coming back to San Diego and working with newer writers,” de la Peña said. “I feel so lucky to work with students who have a chance to become the future of the field.”
SDSU NewsCenter asked de la Peña about his background and what students can expect.

What inspired you to make the move from Brooklyn to San Diego in order to return to teaching?

I'm thrilled to be returning to SDSU. I moved to Brooklyn 17 years ago, when my first novel sold. I'd never lived on the East Coast before, and I was curious about (New York City’s) literary culture. I wrote 15 books there, and I found myself surrounded by talented writers, but all the stories I told were set in California. I guess you could say the West Coast has always been in my heart.

I learned so much about the craft of writing as an M.F.A. student at SDSU. I learned about the business of writing in New York. I hope I can share both with the students in my classes. I'm excited to work with fresh, interesting voices. Writers who are hungry and fearless. I'm especially anxious to mentor emerging Latinx writers.

You are teaching three courses in fall: The Changing Landscape of Contemporary Literature (Engliish 503); Topics in Creative Writing (English 579); and Seminar: Writing the Young Protagonist (English 696). What can students can expect?

I write books for young people, and for the past 17 years I've been immersed in the field.

In my children's literature course we will explore the evolution of the field and meet some of the most important voices in the field via Skype. In my two creative writing courses we will focus on craft, while paying special attention to the construction of the young protagonist across genres.

How will your experiences and knowledge of the publishing world help inspire and educate future authors interested in developing and honing their craft?

First and foremost, we will focus on craft in my courses. Nothing matters more than one’s ability to clearly and efficiently tell an interesting story. But I hope to also share insights I've gained about the publishing industry, too. What are editors looking for? How do editors read your work differently from your peers?
What do you hope your students will achieve during their time in your classes?

I hope to create a safe, creative environment where writers feel comfortable sharing their bravest work. I hope each writer improves his/her craft over the course of the semester. And I also hope writers leave with a better sense of how their work might fit into the current state of the publishing industry.
When you were a student at SDSU, what was your future vision? Are you living it now?

I entered the SDSU M.F.A. program severely lacking an understanding of basic craft elements. I hadn't read enough. And I always tell people, to be even a good writer you first have to be a great reader.

While in the program I got to work with amazing faculty who steered me toward great literature. I began to dream of one day publishing a book of my own. But I didn't know if I could actually do it. And I had no idea how the process worked. I made a ton of missteps in my own path to publication. But I eventually got there.

I'll say this: publishing doesn't make you a writer. Writing makes you a writer. But it has always been my dream to support myself as a writer, and I feel tremendously privileged to be able to do so.
What are your current book projects?

In the next year-and-a-half I have two picture books and a novel coming out. The first to be released is a picture book (with Christian Robinson who also illustrated Last Stop on Market Street) called Kimo Imagines the World, which explores mass incarceration from the perspective of a young boy. I'm extremely excited about all three books, but this one is close to my heart.