Anna-Marie McLemore is a finalist for the 2016 William C. Morris YA Debut Award, which was presented at the ALA Midwinter Youth Media Awards. A full announcement of all of the titles and authors honored at the 2016 YMA’s can be found here.
The Weight of Feathers, follows two young people struggling to define themselves and their place in the larger world, and within their own families. Cluck Corbeau belongs to a family of former tightrope walkers, who now perform in a traveling act that scales the tallest trees, while Lace Paloma is the youngest performer in her family’s long-running mermaid show. When the two families set up in the same town, the long-simmering feud between them threatens to boil over, even as Lace and Cluck are drawn closer together.
Congratulations on your beautiful first novel, The Weight of Feathers, and on being selected as a Finalist for the William C. Morris Award for debut authors!
Thank you so much! I’m so honored to be among these women and their books I so deeply admire, and I’m so grateful to the Morris Committee. I’m thrilled I got to meet both authors and committee members at Midwinter!
The novel follows two families with very distinctly and richly-observed cultural heritages, while also exploring the developing individuality of the two main protagonists within and, in some instances, in direct opposition to, those families. Can you speak a little about this tension between belonging and standing apart?
Speaking from my own experience, when you grow up in a big, closely knit family, they’re your world. Especially when you share a culture that might be underrepresented or marginalized where you live. The upside of that is the sense of community. But—and this can be good or it can detrimental—what they believe about you is often what you believe about yourself. Cluck thinks he deserves to be shunned because it’s what almost everyone around him believes. Lace accepts that her body should be different than it is because she and her cousins measure themselves by their older relatives’ opinions. The things our families teach us may not be what we believe throughout our lives, but they stay with us even as we define who we are. If we can, we hold onto our heritage, the things we want to go with us, while leaving behind what weighs us down.
I’ve read that you met with a Romani scholar to help research Cluck’s family and background; how did you approach researching and writing about a cultural heritage beyond the ones you have been personally immersed in?
My personal reasons for wanting to write Romani characters is a long story for another time, but part of why I thought it was important is because there are so many misconceptions about Romani people, especially in this country. Many people don’t know that the word “gypsy” is a slur; it doesn’t mean someone who likes to travel. Even fewer seem to realize that “gypped” is a slur too. And many people don’t know the history of persecution Romani people have faced. I don’t have Romani heritage, so making sure I was being as respectful and accurate as I could meant doing my research, including talking with an authority from the community.
My hope is that I learned not only enough to write a Romani family, but enough to be an ally. Though I’m not Romani, as a Latina, I do know how much it hurts to have my heritage appropriated, to have the story of my culture warped, so I want to be an ally in preventing that in any way I can.
One of the most important things I learned from the scholar I talked with is that there’s so often more cultural overlap than we think. I was surprised to learn how much Romani tradition has in common with my heritage. Those moments helped fuel this story. They helped me find its heart and its truth.
I loved getting to know an intergenerational cast of characters, and seeing the impact of revered older family members on our young protagonists – did you know from the outset that this would be a YA novel? Continue reading 2016 Morris Award Finalists: An Interview with Anna-Marie McLemore