I am René Colato Laínez, the Salvadoran award winning author of I Am René, the Boy, Waiting for Papá, Playing Lotería, René Has Two Last Names and The Tooth Fairy Meets El Ratón Pérez.
My picture books have been honored by the Latino Book Award, the Paterson Prize for Books for Young People, the California Collection for Elementary Readers, the Tejas Star Book Award Selection and the New Mexico Book Award. I was named “Top Ten New Latino Authors to Watch (and Read)” by latinostories.com. I am a graduate of the Vermont College MFA program in Writing for Children & Young Adults.
My goal as a writer is to produce good multicultural children's literature; stories where minority children are portrayed in a positive way, where they can see themselves as heroes, and where they can dream and have hopes for the future. I want to write authentic stories of Latin American children living in the United States.
Rene Colato Lainez: René Has Two Last Names celebrates the heritage of having two last names in the Latino Culture. Having two last names is a celebration where all the extended family members are invited because both last names are equally important. Many times people as they crossed borders lost one last name but in their hearts will always remain their identities. I want readers to feel proud of both sides of his/her families. We have received many gifts, stories and traditions from them and we are who we are thanks to the love and effort of our loved ones.
A.R.: As a child, I yearned for books such as René Has Two Last Names, where the main character resembled me. What aspects from your childhood shaped your desire to grow up and write these types of books for children today?
R.C.L.: I grew up in El Salvador. In my Salvadoran school, I read the Spanish classic books, Don Quixote and Marianela. I enjoyed reading the Salvadoran classic novel Jaraguá. I never took for granted how important my identity was until I came to the United States. I was lost in a new classroom and in a new language. All of a sudden, my name was a girl’s name, I lost one last name, and everything was upside down. It was right then, when I started to write about my family, my country, my culture and me.
A.R.: As a teacher you are surrounded by your target audience everyday. What has their response been to your book, René Has Two Last Names, as well as to your other work? Do you ever bounce ideas for an upcoming project off of your students?
R.C.L.: Students at Fernangeles loves René Has Two Last Names, after every reading, I ask them, “What is your name?” They always respond using their two last names. If they don’t know the mother’s last name, they go home and ask for that very important last name. The next day, they look for me, “My name is Veronica Garcia Leal.” My forthcoming book From North to South/ Del norte al sur (September 2010- Children’s Book Press) was born in the classroom, after my student Berenice told me that her father was in jail and then he would be deported to Mexico.
A.R.: Do you feel your books are well received by non-Latino teachers and communities? Why or why not?
R.C.L.: The books are well received. Even though my books are about Latino children, the hearts of the stories are universal. Everyone can identify with a loved one who is far away or the fear of visiting a family member in another country or state. I have heard that my books are even used in Asia in Spanish classes.
A.R.: What are the best things about being a Latino author? What are the biggest challenges Latino writers face today?
R.C.L.: The best thing about being a Latino author is that I can write about my culture in an authentic way. I had lived the immigrant experience and now live in two cultures. It is a privilege for me to tell my stories and to hear students responding, “That happened to me” or “My mamá and papá also lived your experiences.” Publishers are also looking for Latino authors to tell their stories. The biggest challenge is that Latino is a large minority group in the United States but they are not still represented in books. There are only a small portion of books about Latinos published each year. We need more!
A.R.: What skills has the world of education equipped you with that you use when dealing with the world of publishing, and vice versa?
R.C.L.: The classroom has equipped me with a collection of wonderful pictures that I can read and enjoy with my students. Children tell me their adventures and dreams. Revision is a major part of being a writer. In the classroom my students and I need to revise to create the most beautiful stories. I work well with my editors, for me revision is something wonderful because like in the classroom, I want to write great books that later children can enjoy all over the world.
Thank you so much for your time, René. It has been a pleasure to host you and your book, René Has Two Last Names/René tiene dos apellidos. I wish you much continued success with your writing and in life.
***********Readers and visitors of The Sol Within, I welcome you and thank you for checking out my interview today.
Please leave a question or comment for Rene and your name will be entered in a drawing for a copy of Rene Has Two Last Names. Be sure to read my other interviews and stop by again soon as I have lined up some wonderful interviews for 2010!
Wishing you dreams to fulfill and the inspiration needed to do so!
~the sol within~