National Book Foundation's BookUp, Author Willie Perdomo


BookUpNYC instructor Willie Perdomo has just published his second book for young people, Clemente! (with illustrations by Bryan Collier). We asked him what it was like working on this new book while working as a BookUpNYC instructor, and if he had any advice for parents and educators about how to keep young people engaged with books. Here are his answers:

National Book Foundation: How long have you been working on Clemente!? Were you a BookUp instructor during this time? If so, how did the experience of working as a BookUp instructor influence your writing process?

Willie Perdomo: I worked on Clemente! for a whole California day during the summer of 2003. I had just finished teaching at VONA (Voices of Our Nation) and I usually stay in San Francisco a few extra days to decompress after an intense week, so during the off-time I wrote the first draft for Clemente! I submitted the manuscript to Henry Holt and it was accepted right away. But it took another 6 years before the project's number actually came up. By then, I had taken another look at the manuscript and rewrote most of it before it went to proof.

NBF: Did you share with your BookUp students that you were working on a book about Roberto Clemente? Did they give you any advice?

WP: I did. Many of them didn't know about Roberto Clemente, but they told me it had better be good.

NBF: You’ve written two books of poetry in the past. How is writing stories for young people different for you?

WP: The two children's books I have written started with a particular voice. For Visiting Langston, it was the voice of a young girl from Harlem. For Clemente!, it was a young boy from the Bronx, and both voices were probably composites of all the kids I grew up with in East Harlem. But the poems in my last two collections didn't always have the same spring boards; sometimes it was an image, sometimes it was a verse, sometimes it was a song, and sometimes it was a joke.

NBF: As a writer, you know the impact that reading has on young people, particularly in their tween years. What’s the one piece of advice you would give to parents and educators about how to get kids excited about reading? Any advice on getting boys to read more?

WP: I think access to books is most important. You would be surprised how many households are devoid of any literature outside of, say, a Bible, a shopping catalog, or a few general interest magazines. As a parent, I make sure my son knows that time needs to be made for reading like time needs to be made for recreation, household chores, breakfast, and homework. Getting young males to read takes some coercion. Reading has to be made cool, again.

Buy the book:

- Clemente! on

- Clemente! on

Willie Perdomo Bio

Willie Perdomo is the author Where a Nickel Costs a Dime and Smoking Lovely, which received a PEN America Beyond Margins Award. He has also been published in The New York Times Magazine, Bomb, CENTRO Journal and African Voices. His children's book, Visiting Langston, received a Coretta Scott King Honor. He has been a Pushcart Prize nominee, a Woolrich Fellow in Creative Writing at Columbia University and is a 2009 fellow in Poetry from the New York Foundation for the Arts. He is co-founder/publisher of Cypher Books.

Willie Perdomo's Recommended Books for Boys