Author Spotlight: Benjamin Alire Saenz

This year saw a remarkable achievement by Hispanic author Benjamin Alire Saenz: he and his 2012 YA novel Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe were honored with multiple awards!

aristotle and dante

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe is a story that embodies multiple perspectives at once – Hispanic-American, LGBTQ, teenage loner – which is why I think it was honored with so many awards. Dante is an upper class Hispanic gay teen who becomes fast, but unexpected, friends with Aristotle (Ari) Mendoza, a lower class kid who’s a loner with a brother in prison, and a family who won’t talk about it. Both discover, as the title implies, much about their families, their home, and themselves through their friendship.

Saenz was name the 2013 Pura Belpre Author Award winner for Aristotle and Dante. The Pura Belpre Author Award is given each year to an outstanding author of Latino/a descent whose work best portrays, affirms, and celebrates the Latino cultural experience in an excellent work of fiction or nonfiction written for children or teens.

Aristotle and Dante was also given the Stonewall Book Award, which was the first award for LGBTQ literature, and has become one of the most important awards in literature for young people as more and more books and authors embrace the LGBTQ experience freely and beautifully. The Stonewall Book Award is the title of a series of awards for adult fiction, adult nonfiction, and children’s and young adult literature (fiction/nonfiction). The children’s/YA award is called the Mike Morgan & Larry Romans Children’s and Young Adult Literature Award and has been given each year since 2010 to a children’s or young adult book of exceptional merit relating to the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender experience. The name Stonewall is taken from the Stonewall Riots, a series of violent demonstrations that took place in New York City in 1970s in response to a police raid of a well-known gay club. It is considered one of the most important events in the gay liberation movement, so the award for LGBTQ lit is aptly named. (Information from http://www.ala.org/glbtrt/award, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stonewall_riots, and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stonewall_Book_Award)

And, finally, Aristotle and Dante (and Saenz) was named to the list of Printz Award Honors! The Printz award is the foremost award for books for young adults. Though it did not take the prize, getting an honor for such a prestigious award is a huge deal.

Benjamin Alire Saenz is a prolific writer of picture books, YA fiction, and novels, poetry and short stories for adults. He was born in New Mexico and resides in El Paso, Texas, and writes mostly about that area of the country, in particular the Mexican-American experience. (“Benjamin Alire Saenz.” Contemporary Authors Online. Detroit: Gale, 2010. Gale Biography In Context. 7 Feb. 2013.)

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