By Ryan O'Connell
Arts & Features Editor
Illustrator Raúl The Third and writer Erin Entrada Kelly gave addresses about their creative journeys and inspirations at the final event of the 2022 Swiacki Children’s Literature Festival Nov. 2.
English major Stefano Hernandez introduced Raúl by sharing some of his accomplishments and the connection Hernandez felt when viewing Raúl’s work.
“His worlds have … different anthropomorphic animals and bring back memories of old rubber-hose cartoons, but with an inclusive Hispanic flair that is desperately needed in these current times,” Hernandez said.
Raúl said he was happy to be at FSU because he had spoken before at the University nine years ago, and still sometimes has social media interactions with students he met during that visit.
He first spoke about his move to Massachusetts, and said he moved to Boston in his 20s, excited to be in close proximity to a number of publishing companies - one being Highwater Books in Cambridge.
Raúl said he remembered reading a biography about Harry Houdini during the drive up from El Paso, Texas, and noticed a remark Houdini had made in a letter after completing an escape from the bottom of the Charles River.
“[Houdini] wrote, ‘I have realized now that all cultured roads lead to Boston,’ and that made my ears perk up. Boston? That’s where I’m going!”
Raúl then shared his early searches for work in the city, and his initial plan of “strategic public drawing,” in which he would draw for hours in coffee shops located near publishing companies, in hopes he would be recruited as talent.
He added he didn’t find any success with this method, and it wasn’t until he gave his portfolio to a head librarian, by chance, that he saw significant progress as an illustrator.
Raúl said he was asked to teach a workshop on writing comic books due to his impressive portfolio, and was at first hesitant about his ability to teach - but accepted the work due to good pay.
He added he had spent a lot of time in the library as a boy, and it had always been a comforting space for him. “What’s great about libraries,” he said, was “they welcomed us with open arms, and for the first time … we felt like we were a major part of the community.”
Raúl said his workshop expanded and grew in popularity, leading him to teach in museums and libraries across the Minuteman Library Network. Still, he said, he was doubting if Boston had been the right city to move to, since he didn’t see a lot of himself in the community’s museums.
He said this later inspired him to teach students to create characters which looked like them, and began sending his artwork to places across the country - one receiver being a librarian in Portland, Oregon.
Raúl said the librarian noticed Hispanic boys in her library didn’t see themselves in books, and asked him to collaborate with her in creating a book they would enjoy - “Lowriders in Space.”
He said they reached out to multiple publishers, who all denied it for being for “too marginal of an audience.”
He said they finally found success from a Korean woman in publishing, who herself had looked for people like her in books as a child, and wanted to give other children the chance to see themselves in their libraries.
Writer Erin Entrada Kelly shared how her experiences as a child and young adult helped shape her writing.
Kelly said she was a sensitive girl, who once held a funeral service for a fruit fly and would rather bury herself in stuffed animals - and become uncomfortably warm under her covers - than hurt their feelings by not sleeping with them.
She added she was a scared and cautious child, unlike her sister who was much more comfortable climbing trees or swimming in the Gulf of Mexico.
Kelly said her sister was the most popular girl in school, involved in several extracurricular activities. However, Kelly said unlike her sister she was unremarkable - occupied with her “invisible hobbies,” like writing and drawing.
“The only thing that seemed to stand out about me was the fact that I was racially ambiguous,” she said.
Kelly added in middle school she felt like she wanted to disappear, and even drafted a list of things she hated about herself. She said she was bullied in high school and spent a lot of time in the library, hiding from her friends because of how vulnerable she felt.
She said as she grew into her career and began writing short stories, she noticed herself writing a lot of characters aged 8 to 12, which she thought was the age range where “everything can change.”
Kelly said she began to write for the age group, and put a lot of energy into representation, since she didn’t see a lot of Asian people in books for children, or depictions of Filipino people and culture.
She added being kind can have positive impacts on children, and shared comments she received as a girl which she had never forgotten, asking attendees to be the person who recognizes those kids.
“My hope for you is that you are that person,” she said. “You’re that person that says ‘I see you.’ You’re that person who makes eye contact with the kid who maybe has not been spoken to all day long.”