Isabel Quintero is a writer and the daughter of Mexican immigrants. She lives and writes in the Inland Empire of Southern California. Her first novel Gabi, a Girl in Pieces, is an honest exploration of contemporary Latina identity. The book has received several awards, including the William C. Morris Award for Debut YA, the California Book Award Gold Medal, and Boston Globe-Horn Book Award. Isabel also writes poetry and essays. My Papi Has a Motorcycle is her first picture book for children.
Isabel will be one of the featured authors at the Los Angeles Libros Festival, a free bilingual book festival for the whole family. Celebrating oral traditions, the festival will feature stories and music from Latin America—including México, Guatemala, El Salvador, Colombia—and the United States. LA Libros Fest will take place at the Los Angeles Central Library on September 28, 2019, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
How did you begin writing?
Words and stories have always been a part of my life, whether oral or written. As a little girl, my mom would read to me on her nights off from working in a convalescent hospital kitchen. She’d get home and we’d shower, put on our pajamas, then sit on our couch to read. Amelia Bedelia stands out because my mom and I enjoyed the silliness and would laugh so hard.
I think I probably started writing around this time. Stories, poems, anything. My mom and dad still have poems I wrote for them when I was in first or second grade saved. In fifth grade, though, is when I really began to know what it meant to write a story. Mrs. Laing, my teacher, had us write a Halloween story and I remember how my imagination just took off and how good that felt. I didn’t want to stop. And then in 10th grade, I read e.e. cummings and his work did the same thing for me—it opened up my mind to the possibilities of language and white space. From then on it was only poetry. Even Gabi, a Girl in Pieces was a novel in verse at first. I strongly believe that reading and writing poetry makes stronger prose writers.
What does being an author mean to you?
It means that a dream that I never let myself dream as a young person became a reality. I’ve always been a writer, but a published author, of children’s books? That was something other folks did. But now that I am here, it means that I am able to share my stories, my family stories, histories, whether they be dark, funny, sad, weird, nonsensical, with the world. I wanted to be a teacher, to work in education because I believe that education is one way to work towards justice and equity. In the last few years, I’ve learned that being an author is another way to actively work towards those things.
What inspired you to participate in the Los Angeles Libros Festival?
I was invited to participate by LA Libreria, the folx there have been so supportive over the last few years. I was more than thrilled to be part of this inaugural event. Los Angeles Libros Festival is filling a need, especially in a city as Latinx as Los Angeles, and a region as Latinx as Southern California. I mean, qué chido, no? This is an event that families can go to together and then have a dialogue about after. So many times, I feel, events are English only, and our Spanish only families don’t get to understand or enjoy to the fullest extent. But this is not the case here. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of something so special?
What is your creative process like?
Erratic. I think most writers do what works for them and that’s true for me. I write at home on my kitchen table or on my couch. Somedays I write for hours and somedays I write a sentence. It varies on the project. For example, for Photographic: The Life of Graciela Iturbide and My Papi Has a Motorcycle, during the later drafts, I would hang up my clothesline in my living room and walk through the stories—revising like that because it made it easier to read. I still like to print out drafts and edit on hard copies, then transfer them to the document I’ve saved. It takes a little longer but makes more sense to me.
Part of my creative process is also to engage in creative activities. I’ll watch movies, read poetry, go to museums, read comics. It feeds the soul. Also, hiking. I get some great ideas when I’m out wandering hills and looking at birds and brush.
Tell us your favorite library story from when you were a kid growing up in the Inland Empire.
As I said, my mom worked a lot and so when she had days off she spent it with my brother and me. We would walk, from our home on the eastside in Riverside, down Mission Inn Blvd. to the main Riverside Public Library. Usually, on those days, my amá would take us first to the museum across the street to check out the exhibits and then we’d make our way to the library. We’d walk up to the second floor, to the children’s section and spend time looking through books and annoying the librarians with my incessant questions. I’d pick around 15 books and then we’d walk back home that much richer than when we left.