The Big Read Blog (Archive)

Talking Lit with Esmeralda Santiago

Esmeralda Santiago. Photo by Robert Curtis/CANTOMEDIA

Author Esmeralda Santiago believes that literature transforms lives, and she puts that belief into action on many fronts: She is a spokesperson on behalf of public libraries, serves on the boards of organizations devoted to the arts and literature, and speaks passionately about the need to encourage and support the artistic development of young people. The eldest of 11 children, Santiago was born in Puerto Rico and moved with her family to Brooklyn when she was 13. Accepted into New York City’s Performing Arts High School in Manhattan, she then spent eight years in community colleges before eventually winning a full scholarship to Harvard University.

Her writing career grew from her work as a producer and writer of documentaries and educational films. Santiago has always moved seamlessly across genres, equally at home writing films, essays, memoirs, and novels. Her first book was the critically acclaimed memoir, When I Was A Puerto Rican. She adapted her second memoir, Almost a Woman, into an award-winning film for PBS Masterpiece Theatre.

Her latest project is a work of fiction that moves across decades and continents. Set primarily in 19th century colonial Puerto Rico, Conquistadora opens a window onto Caribbean plantation life, a life based on sugar and the slaves used to produce it.  I spoke with Esmeralda Santiago at the National Book Festival in Washington DC, and asked her about the challenges of moving from memoir to fiction. [2:40]




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