#WorldKidLit Month 2020: Incubating Children’s Literature in Puerto Rico

In addition to previously-unbeknownst-to-me books, my research for #WorldKidLit Month led me to the discovery of a marvelous new effort to grow the profile of children’s and young adult literature in Puerto Rico.

Historical Photograph: Bookmobile in front of Dr. María Cadilla High School in Arecibo, Puerto Rico, 1961. Courtesy of Puerto Rico Historic Building Drawings Society on Facebook.

The Incubadora de Literatura Infantil y Juvenil de Puerto Rico, or the Children’s and Young Adult Literature Incubator of Puerto Rico, is a collaboration between the Universidad del Sagrado Corazón and Nuestro Barrio Santurce, a hub for economic and cultural and development located in the Santurce area of San Juan. The Incubator seeks to develop Puerto Rican #kidlit writers in both the creative and commercial aspects of writing and publication.

The Incubator was just announced this year, just this past June, in fact. I wanted to learn more, so I was very lucky to have been able to speak with Marlyn Martínez of Nuestro Barrio. She was gracious enough to answer my questions about the Incubator, what initiated the program, and what the hopes are as it continues in the future.

The Children’s and Young Adult Literature Incubator is a 10-week series of workshops that began in July 2020. Those desiring to participate had to first apply, and participants who already had an existing manuscript with which to work were selected.

The first five weeks were dedicated to the creative part of children’s literature: books as educational tools, how to plot and diagram a story, illustrations, etc. The second half of the series was focused on the business aspect: publishing, marketing, and copyrights, for example. With participants across Puerto Rico and in the diaspora, the workshops were all presented virtually (an ideal response to our present global pandemic).

In this first cohort there were 25 participants, writing in all sorts of genres and across themes, such as mental health, loss of family members, and music, to name a few; all but one were writing in Spanish. After the conclusion of of the workshops there are plans to publish a collection of excerpts from the participants’ works in progress. At that time, participants are also able to further collaborate with Nuestro Barrio Santurce’s commercialization program in order to get their work out to the reading public.

According to Martínez, the decision to focus on children’s literature was the desire to see its growth-more books being published, and more books being read-as a tool for economic development. Literary content and material produced by Puerto Ricans abounds, but there is not an exhaustive network of publishers, agents, and other professionals dedicated to the dissemination of children’s and young adult literature. The Incubator hopes to rectify that. There are also hopes to connect with librarians and libraries on the island and the Diaspora, to get more Puerto Rican Kid Lit into collections and into the hands of professionals that work with children and families.

In speaking with Martínez, I was struck by how fortuitous the timing of the start of the Incubator seemed. Before the start of the COVID-19 crisis, Nuestro Barrio had been approached by Lilac Publishing (the publishers of Un coquí de Boriquén con los Reyes a Belén, which I hope to read soon) to develop the Incubator program. By March 2020, it became apparent that families quarantining at home were looking for children’s books, and it was necessary to address that, as that trend was only going to continue.

There are hopes for future cohorts of the Incubator, especially now that the initial 10 week session has finished. I look forward to seeing what books for children and young adults the Incubator produces.

Klem-Marí Cajigas has been with Nashville Public Library since 2012, after more than a decade of academic training in Religious Studies and Ministry. As the Family Literacy Coordinator for Bringing Books to Life!, Nashville Public Library’s award-winning early literacy outreach program, she delivers family literacy workshops to a diverse range of local communities. Born in Puerto Rico, Klem-Marí is bilingual, bicultural, and proudly Boricua.

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