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Saraciea J. Fennell is a Black Honduran American writer and publicist, who’s worked with New York Times bestselling authors including Daniel José Older, Jerry Pinkney, Chris Colfer, Kass Morgan, Malala Yousafzai, Julie Andrews, Bethany C. Morrow and more. She’s also the founder of The Bronx is Reading, an initiative launched to promote literacy throughout the Bronx. (Currently, they’re trying to fund a bookstore on Fordham Road; donate here.)
Saraciea is also Board Chair for Latinx in Publishing and on the Advisory Board of People of Color in Publishing. And as if that weren’t enough work for one person, her writing has been featured on PopSugar Latina, Remezcla, and Hypebae. More recently, her first anthology—Wild Tongues Can’t Be Tamed, a collection of writing from voices across the Latinx diaspora—was published by Flatiron Books.
Here, we discuss her work as an organiser, why she loves YA fantasy, and her anthology Wild Tongues Can’t be Tamed.
Lauren Cocking: You’re a book publicist. What does that entail exactly?
Saraciea J. Fennell: As a publicist I work with authors to promote their book via pitching coverage to media publications, bloggers, and social media influencers. I also coordinate select appearances for them to engage with readers and gatekeepers at events like book festivals, tradeshows, conventions, book tours and more.
LC: What’s something you wish more people knew about being a book publicist?
SJF: I wish folks knew how much time and energy goes into organising a publicity campaign. I also wish more people understood the difference between publicity and marketing … most people think they are both the same but it’s not true, marketing handles the positioning of a book, advertising, and other paid initiatives.
LC: You’re also the founder of The Bronx is Reading. Tell me a bit more about the project, and the associated Bronx Book Festival.
SJF: The Bronx is Reading promotes literacy and fosters a love of reading among children, teens, and adults, empowering the next generation of readers and writers. Our mission is to celebrate literacy and books through our multidimensional initiatives including the annual Bronx Book Festival, The Bronx is Reading Literacy Program that brings free books and authors to Title I schools, a monthly book club, and our online and pop-up bookstore.
LC: What’s in store for the future of the Bronx Book Festival?
SJF: This past June we hosted our 5th annual festival. For future years we plan to expand our adult programming and to add awards to honour writers. I’m also currently fundraising to bring a children’s and general interest bookstore to the Fordham Road section of the Bronx, NY. If folks would like to donate, they can do so here.
LC: You tweeted about the Bronx Book Festival being a place where writers could discuss their work without having to engage in questions of identity, unless they wanted to. What’s a question you—as writer, publicist, editor—have always wanted to be asked?
SJF: As a writer and editor, I love being asked questions about craft, and the inspiration for a story. As a publicist, I love being asked questions about the ways in which a writer can build their network and launch their “brand” which is essentially launching their career as a writer.
LC: With that in mind, how can a writer build their network and launch their brand?
SJF: Writers can build their network by cultivating relationships with local literary gatekeepers like librarians, educators, and bookstore owners and booksellers, book clubs. They should also figure out what they’d like their brand to be. What are the parts of themselves that they would like to share publicly, i.e. do you love giving writing tips?
LC: Can you briefly tell me a little about the Latinx in Publishing initiative?
SJF: Latinx in Publishing is a nonprofit organisation focused on supporting and increasing the number of Latine in the publishing industry and promoting literature by, for, and about Latine people.
LC: What are some of the things you’re especially proud of achieving with Latinx in Publishing?
SJF: I’m especially proud of our success rate for getting folks in our network hired at various publishing houses! Approximately 25-30% of our volunteers and interns have landed jobs or freelance gigs within in the industry. I’m also delighted with the success of all of our programs we’ve conducted over the last couple of years including the Writers Mentorship Program, and our Work-in-Progress, and Publishing Fellowship Programs that support Latine writers and aspiring book workers.
LC: I feel like much of your work is about decentralising literature, what we think of as literature, and how we engage with it. How can we further decentralise literature, whether geographically, from whiteness, from class, in your opinion?
SJF: This is such a great question! I think we need to continue to diversify the stories that are told, that are acquired by publishing houses, and marketed to readers. That’s the only way we can affect change and allow people to engage with the work.
LC: I want to talk a bit more about your own work as a writer. You’ve said that writing in the margins makes you feel like a “real writer”. What else makes you feel like a real writer?
SJF: Well, having my book published made me feel like a real writer, ha! But, other things like being part of a writing community both online and in real life have reminded me that I am a writer and that my craft is valued by others.
LC: Speaking of your own book, you tweeted about white readers engaging poorly with Wild Tongues Can’t Be Tamed. How would you like to see white, non-Latinx readers engaging with literature created by non-white, Latinx people?
SJF: I’d like them to enjoy the stories, to not automatically dislike a book because the characters or author don’t look like them.
LC: Tell me how you came to work on the Wild Tongues Can’t Be Tamed anthology and what that process was like?
SJF: The idea for Wild Tongues Can’t Be Tamed came together during the Trump election and from years of frustration of stereotypes and myths about our community. From there, I thought it would be a cool idea to pull together some prominent and new voices from the Latinx community to subvert these stereotypes and to speak our truth. It was tough editing an anthology during a global pandemic but working with these amazing writers was such a balm because it reminded me that I’m not alone in my experiences; there’s an entire community who has gone through what I’ve gone through.
LC: Do you have any writing rituals?
SJF: Yes, my writing ritual includes music, a snack, sunflower seeds, and a beverage, usually water, or flavoured seltzer.
LC: You often tweet about the absence of Black Latin American people in publishing. Are there any writers who you’d like to see published that haven’t been just yet?
SJF: Indeed, I do tweet about this a lot. There are a few writers I’d love to see traditionally published, particularly some self-published/indie writers including Sulma Arzu-Brown and Mercy Tullis-Bukhari.
LC: What are you working on right now?
SJF: Currently I’m working on a collection of essays, and a few short stories that will be included in some anthologies.
LC: As a writer, you deal in YA fantasy. What is it about YA fantasy that appeals to you specifically?
SJF: I love YA fantasy because it’s otherworldly, I can not only suspend my beliefs, but I can journey to a new world that has supernatural beings in additional to stellar worldbuilding.
LC: What are you reading right now?
LC: Are there any other people working with Latin American literature that you’d like to shout-out and/or think I should interview next?
SJF: Oh, there are so many folks doing good work! I’d love to shout out Dominican Writers and Angy Abru, as well as Andrea Morales, fellow Central American and all around badass.
This interview was conducted over email and has been edited slightly for length and clarity. Header image of Saraciea J. Fennell is © Viscose Illusion.