Dr. Chris Crowe of Brigham Young University & Author Matt de la Peña Usher in Day Two
"Historians can learn a lot from novels."
"Historians can learn a lot from novels," he told his audience.
He shared his own philosophy on writing historical fiction, emphasizing the importance of discernment on the part of the author. He argued that only the most important pieces of the historical narrative should be presented to the fiction reader.
"Not everything that happens needs to be told," he cautioned. "Every little detail doesn't need to make it to the reader, only what's most important."
Between sharing his own writing processes, humorous anecdotes that have inspired his work and presenting the audience with some of the most fascinating "untold stories" throughout history that have yet to be presented in historical fiction, Dr. Crowe also revealed aspects of his personal life that have had a major impact on his writing career.
As the father of two adopted African-American children, Dr. Crowe shared that he was inspired by the multitude of social and personal layers that defined his children's upbringing and existence in the world. He credited his relationships with them for inspiring many of his works, particularly to explore stories of African-American kids and identity.
"My wife and I learned quite a lot about the world we live in," he shared of his experiences raising children of a different race.
Dr. Crowe also shared his love of haiku with the audience and previewed his latest book Death Coming Up The Hill, due out in October 2014, which is written entirely in the Japanese poetry form. The work centers on the year 1968, the deadliest year of the Vietnam War, as told through the eyes of a reflective soldier.
Dr. Crowe is past president of ALAN and the author of scholarly works as well as fiction and non-fiction for young adults. His most notable works center on Mildred D. Taylor, Presenting Mildred D. Taylor and Teaching the Selected Works of Mildred D. Taylor, and two books about Emmett Till, one a novel and the other a work of non- fiction for adolescents.
For more on Chris Crowe's research, work and experiences at the Conference, follow him on Twitter @CroweChris.
"You can never be a good writer if you aren't a great reader first."
Growing up in a working class, Southern California neighborhood as a biracial child (half Mexican, half white) deeply influenced de la Peña's own path in life and has had a great effect on his writing.
He struggled with his own racial identity and confessed to being a less than stellar student, being held back in the second grade because of his low reading skills. He also struggled to define himself within his family and the world around him.
"I felt like an alien in school settings," he confessed. "I felt like an impostor because I had decided that I wasn't a good student. You will encounter all sorts of definitions of who you are in life, but the hardest one to break free from is
De la Peña overcame his personal insecurities in high school and eventually went to college on a basketball scholarship where he also discovered a love for writing, and later, reading.
"Once I had a tangible goal, my entire life changed," he said of his decision to earn a scholarship to college. "I think that is something so many kids are lacking in today's society."
De la Peña's run in with Alice Walker's The Color Purple during his sophomore year of college set his life on a new path. He empathized with Walker's main character, saying her plight gave him perspective on his own life.
"I thought my life was so tough and then I read that book and thought 'Oh, my God. My life is so easy.'"
Having discovering Walker's classic, De la Peña began to read more and more, a pastime he deemed essential for any accomplished writer.
"You can never be a good writer if you aren't a great reader first," he said. "That book changed my life. It was the book that made me a reader."
Matt de la Peña is the author of critically-acclaimed young adult novels: Ball Don’t Lie, Mexican WhiteBoy, We Were Here and I Will Save You; the award-winning picture book A Nation’s Hope: The Story of Boxing Legend Joe Louis; and a fifth YA novel, The Living released in 2013 along with his first middle grade novel, Curse of the Ancients.
For more on Matt de la Peña's work and experiences at the Conference, follow him on Twitter @MattdelaPena.