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Young writers meet literary heroes at annual festival of stories and culture
“Do you know that a regular, yellow, number two pencil is filled with enough lead to write about 40,000 words?” asked Arizona Poet Laureate and University Professor Alberto Rios. “That is a book. Every pencil is literally filled with a book.”
Rios was addressing middle and high school students gathered for Día de los Niños/Día de los Libros, or “Children’s Day/Book Day,” an event sponsored by Arizona State University’s Department of English, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the Phoenix Book Company, and Dunkin’ Donuts.
The day-long celebration was started in 2011 by English education doctoral candidate Tracey Flores and English professor James Blasingame to bring students together with authors and performers whose experiences reflect those of the many Latina and Latino youth in attendance. Now, “Día,” as it’s often called, is expected to draw at least 650 attendees—more than twice as many participants as the program’s first year.
“At Día, we celebrate youth, cultures, languages, and literacies by encouraging youth to realize the power of their voices,” said Flores.
As writers Rene Saldana, Gary Soto, Matt DelaPena, Meg Medina, Tom Leveen, Rios, and others tell stories, attendees are inspired to share their own.
One year, a teacher was brought to tears when one of her most reticent students read aloud verses he wrote during a workshop with poet Tomas Stanton.
According to Flores, empowering silenced students to express themselves is at the heart of Día.
Rios’s encouragement did just that.
“What a great thing to be able to let out,” he concluded. “Just let your pencil start writing.”