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Author Matt de la Peña Entertains, Inspires Students

Matt de la Peña recently visited three high schools for Student Reader Day programs – the Davidson County Juvenile Detention Center in Nashville, Northwest High School and Clarksville High School in Clarksville. He shared his personal story of growing up in a Southern Californian neighborhood on the Mexican border, navigating two cultures as a child of mixed heritage, following his passion for basketball, how he became a reader, and eventually an award winning writer (Mexican WhiteBoy,The Living, The Hunted, Ball Don’t Lie, We Were Here)

Matt began this spring’s events in Nashville at the Davidson County Juvenile Detention Center where he spoke to students there about finding and following your passion. Matt believes “You know who you really are by what you do when no one’s looking”, and for him, as a young person, it was basketball, writing poetry, and reading. Nurturing his passion for these pastimes earned him a basketball scholarship to college and a graduate degree in creative writing.

In Clarksville, Matt visited 265 seniors from Northwest High and 275 9th-12th graders at Clarksville High School. Many of these students had already started reading de la Peña’s The Living, which was selected as Best Fiction for Young Adults in 2014 by Young Adult Library Services Association. Matt shared similar stories with these students, and the students asked questions about his process, his personal journey, and how he creates characters. Getting young people interested in reading and expressing their creativity to promote personal growth is the goal of the Student Reader Day programs.  As any writer will tell you, you can’t be a good writer until you’re a good reader. That’s where it began for Matt, and that was the root of his message to students at these three schools.

Thanks to grant funds from the Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee, we were able to provide a free copy of one of Matt de la Peña’s books to each participating student. More than 550 books were put into the hands of students on April 6-8 and already librarians at these schools have seen more students in the library than before these events and conversations about Matt’s visit are still heard in the halls. Seeds planted by the Student Reader Day programs are already taking root.

See a video of these events, courtesy of Clarksville-Montgomery County School System, here