Friday, September 17 is Constitution Day. Carmen T. Bernier-Grand has just published a book on Sonia Soto Mayor: Supreme Court Justice. It’s a great tie-in to talking with K5 students about the Constitution and one branch of government. She has other biographies for kids; Cesar:Si se puede!, Yes, We Can, Frida:!Viva La vida! Long Live Life!, and Diego Bigger Than Life After I stopped by her house to pick up her latest book, I sent here questions to answer for this interview.
JRM: Sonia Sotomayor, Supreme Court Justice was just published. When did you decide that you wanted to do a book on Sonia Sotomayor?
CTG: When the media began to talk about Sotomayor as a possible justice, author Eric Kimmel told me to write about her. As soon as the rumors became reality, I approached my editor.
JRM: How did you go about researching for the book?
CTG: All I had was Internet and newspapers.
JRM: Were you able to interview Justice Sotomayor? What was that like?
CTG: By the time I’d learned enough to know what to ask, the government had closed all doors to reach her or reach her family. But I interviewed her cousin in Puerto Rico, and Justice Sotomayor read the manuscript.
JRM: There is so much about Sotomayor’s life. How did you determine what to use?
CTG: I always look for story arc. Justice Sotomayor’s life has had enough ups and downs with a main goal: To succeed.
JRM: Was there an aspect in her life you wished that you could have put in but didn’t?
CTG: She put her ex-husband through college, and then they divorced. They remained friends, so I didn’t say anything about her sacrificing for him.
JRM: What unexpected outcomes did you have writing this biography?
CTG: I was going to be in Washington DC, so I tried to meet her. They finally said no because the end of the Supreme Court term is busy time. But the CIA investigated me!
JRM: You write in free verse (which I love). Is the first draft in free verse or does that come with revision?
CTG: Let’s get the record straight. I don’t consider myself a poet. The biographies are coming to me that way. It’s hard to control the brain of a writer.
JRM: You were a math major. How did a math major end up as a writer?
CTG: I was always a writer but didn’t know it. I stared (still do) at strangers to find out their point-of-view. I was always making up stories. I looked at the pictures in the comics and made up my own stories and dialogue before reading the bubbles.
JRM: What was your favorite book as a child? As a teen? As an adult? Any particular genre stand out?
CTG: I grew up without a library or bookstore. The first story I remember reading was Caps for Sale. It was in a school anthology, in English or Spanish? I grew up among storytellers. It’s part of the TVless culture. As a teen, I read classics in Spanish such as Don Quijote. As an adult, I read mostly children and young adult books. Realistic and historical fiction stand out.
JRM: What books are on your nightstand?
CTG: You saw my house. We have books everywhere! Right now I am reading Bamboo People by Mitali Perkins.
JRM: Oh, I loved Bamboo People. I read it in one sitting. Where do you find inspiration?
CTG: Everywhere! I have too many stories to tell and too little time to write them. Reading poetry always inspires me.
JRM: Writing the first draft or revising? Which is your favorite?
CTG: Revising. Putting down the story down is painful.
JRM: Favorite time of the day to work?
CTG: All day, every day.
JRM: Chocolate: white, dark, or milk?
CTG: Dark. I am lactose intolerant.
JRM: Dance: funky chicken or the tango?
CTG: Funky chicken. I am a Puerto Rican who doesn’t know how to dance salsa.
JRM: When you aren’t writing, what might we find you doing?
CTG: Reading. I also give presentations in schools, and work for Writers in the Schools and the Whidbey Island MFA program.
JRM: What is up next for you?
CTG: Raúl Colón is illustrating Alicia Alonso: Prima Ballerina (Fall 2011) and Tonya Entrin is illustrating Virgen de Guadalupe (2012).Thanks to a fellowship from Portland Literary Arts, I’ll be going to France and Spain to research Picasso.
JRM: Lucky you to be traveling for research in France and Spain. Thank you, Carmen.
Carmen has a terrific website HERE. She is very active in the local Portland area SCBWI happenings. Last spring, I participated in her workshop at the annual SCBWI-Oregon conference. Next week I will review her book on Sonia Sotomayor.
Carol from Reading is Fundamental (RIF) is hosting Nonfiction Monday. Thanks, Carol.