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Author Matt de la Peña visits Lin-Wood

Matt de la Peña speaks to his third group of Lin-Wood students on Monday. Darin Wipperman/The Littleton Courier. (click for larger version)
May 23, 2012
LINCOLN — Groups of interested Lin-Wood Public School students heard Matt de la Peña provide insight on books, language, and his life on Monday. The author of such novels as Ball Don't Lie and Mexican White Boy enjoyed the opportunity to discuss his work with North Country students.

In discussing his life, de la Peña said he was an unlikely author. He did not consider himself a reader. Instead, he dreamed of being a professional basketball player. After receiving a college scholarship, his plans were crushed after he played against future two-time NBA most valuable player Steve Nash.

The humbling encounter with Nash led de la Peña to consider poetry. It was later in life that he discovered reading. This altered his life. "Once I became a reader," de la Peña told Lin-Wood students, "it changed everything."

Through reading, he said, "You can be everywhere without leaving your little chair." He specifically said, "The Color Purple changed my life. It made me feel something."

As Lin-Wood students discussed parts of his books in detail, it was clear that North Country readers have found lessons and motivation from de la Peña's writing. His books are known for complex characters that have a level of realism that children and critics find appealing.

Even though he was unable to make basketball his career, de la Peña noted that the discipline from playing the sport helps him as an author. In his discussions at Lin-Wood, he noted that his first book required 104 drafts. He said that the process of revising his work is a way to make characters more real.

de la Peña especially likes characters that are truly human. No one, he suggested to the students, is either always good or always bad.

"I just want to be as real as possible," de la Peña said.

Topics in de la Peña's work sometimes lead to controversy. Mexican White Boy, a book about a bi-racial child's effort at self-identity, was removed from the school curriculum in Arizona after controversy in that state about districts' Mexican-American studies programs.

Even with the controversy, many young readers across the country are fascinated by themes in de la Peña's novels. His speaking engagements have included auditoriums of 1,000 students, as well as small groups like his Lin-Wood discussions on Monday.

The movie version of Ball Don't Lie might be released later this year. de la Peña co-wrote the script.

de la Peña has a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing. He lives in Brooklyn, New York. In addition to writing and meeting with students, de la Peña teaches creative writing at New York University. His website is www.mattdelapena.com.

Salmon Press
Martin Lord Osman
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