The author and self-proclaimed spoken word artist Elizabeth Acevedo, who is no stranger to titles (National Poetry Slam Champion and author of New York Times bestselling novel-in-verse The Poet X), made a guest appearance to discuss her novel, The Poet X, and promote determination, resilience, change, and healing for these young men affected by systemic racism and mass incarceration. Our Jail Book Club members took away the importance of sharing your story, perseverance, and using your creativity to create paths to success. 

Elizabeth Acevedo stands in front of the DC Jail with Free Minds and An Open Book staff

Elizabeth Acevedo, third from right, with Free Minds and An Open Book Foundation staff at the entrance to the DC Jail

The Poet X is a novel-in-verse from the point of view of Xiomara Bautista, a young and fierce Afro-Latina heroine hailing from New York. After settling into a circle and doing a round of introductions, Elizabeth Acevedo launched into a powerful spoken word rendition of one of the passages from the book. The teenagers in the Jail Book Club were immediately enthralled.

Acevedo spoke about becoming a writer and The Poet X loosely reflecting her Dominican upbringing and childhood experience. In the novel, Xiomara struggles with her changing body and the attention that comes with it. Opening the floor for dialogue, Acevedo asked the boys if they knew anyone who similarly wrestled with this disconnect between how people see them and who they really are. All of the boys knew at least one person who fit the description, and some said they could relate to the feeling of unwanted expectations.

When she was her teenage protagonist’s age, Acevedo began exploring rap and hip hop because she “didn’t see poetry slam in any books.” Later, she turned to poetry: “I’m trying to hustle my mind…Poetry created an opportunity for me to say what I wanted to say.”

On what drove her to write The Poet X, she said, “My story is just as important as anyone else’s story. I want my friends, my family, my homies to tell their stories too.”

By popular demand, she performed another spoken word piece, on the significance of being heard and staying true to yourself.

As the session neared the end, Acevedo assigned the boys a writing prompt: “Write about a time when you said something you wished you hadn’t.” After writing for a few minutes, many of the boys read their poems aloud, and asked Acevedo to sign their copies of The Poet X.

One young man, Kenny, said of the session: “She could really feel what I been through. I think that’s part because she’s Dominicana (I was born in the Dominican Republic) and part because she’s a great writer. I love to read and I really loved this book.” This was Kenny’s first session in the book club, and there couldn’t have been a better way to start!

Thank you to Elizabeth Acevedo, An Open Book Foundation, and the DC Department of Corrections for making this session possible.

I Love You, Mom
By Deonta

I wish I could take back what I said
When I was arguing with my Mama
And I told her I hated her
I didn’t know how much hate meant
I wish I could have walked away
And just told her I love her
Instead of arguing with her
If I wouldn’t have said what I said
It wouldn’t have hurt her feelings
And we wouldn’t be arguing
Because now, she always talks about it
And she really been there for me
The whole time I’ve been incarcerated
Love Mother

1 Comment

  1. David Irvine on May 3, 2019 at 11:04 AM

    A beautiful poem that is full of life and wisdom. I love the use of Mama, it tells so many stories and the age from which the poem was from. Well done Elizabeth Acevedo, a fantastic poet indeed.

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