Powerful Stories

blog-Sonia NazarioThe following post is excerpted from an article by Phil Johnson published in The Council Chronicle (November 2014.)

Speaking to a high school class in Chicago, author Sonia Nazario was approached by a young African American girl. The student had read Enrique’s Journey, a national bestseller drawn from Nazario’s Pulitzer Prize-winning series on a young man’s treacherous expedition from Honduras to the United States in search of his mother. The book, the girl said, made her realize how similar her Latino classmates’ history is to her own.

“We’re so separate, Black and Latino,” the girl said of her school. “But I read this book and I thought about how my grandmother came north during the Great Migration and left my mother behind. I get this. I have a bridge now to relate to my classmates. . . .”

Nazario believes 90 percent of good writing starts with a strong idea. While she considers herself a natural reporter, she rewrote Enrique’s Journey 12 times. She believes teachers
must dissuade students from believing writing is always easy. Like any worthwhile pursuit, she said, good writing [can be] difficult.

“You build a house one great brick at a time,” Nazario said. “I work to make my writing as clear and simple as possible. If you have powerful scenes and powerful details in the narrative, you can take readers on a powerful ride. Sometimes the most powerful stories are simply told. . . .”

While visiting colleges, Nazario is both exhilarated and terrified when first-year students say her book is the first they ever read cover to cover. She views literacy as a top priority for the immigrant population. . . .

“Immigrant children or the children of immigrants are the fastest growing demographic K–12,” Nazario said. “These kids are the future workforce of this country. Nearly half of Latino students drop out of high school. That is the highest percentage of any ethnic group. Succeeding with literacy is critical, and we are obviously failing.”

When teaching Enrique’s Journey, Nazario encourages teachers to use the text to foster critical discussion. . . . “Always remember,” Nazario says, “one of our first instincts should be compassion, to try to put ourselves in other peoples’ shoes. It does not mean we always agree with their choices, but before you judge you should try to see things through their eyes. We have to be open to being transported to different places with an open heart.”

Sonia Nazario was a keynote speaker at the 2014 NCTE Convention in Washington, DC. 

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