Down in New York’s Boogie Down Bronx, Saraciea J. Fennell has been tapping into the magic of literature as a dynamic tool to bolster the vibrancy of Latinx storytelling. As an author, publicist, and founder of The Bronx is Reading, she aims her work to be rooted in uplifting the voices of her heritage through writing, storytelling, and creating avenues of community access to published books. Whether curating cultural anthologies or producing literary festivals, Saraciea Fennell is utilizing the power of literature to preserve Latinx histories and reimagine what the future holds.
That is why this Our Heritage Month, we are collaborating with Walmart and the Together Somos Más campaign to highlight and share the voices of Latinx visionaries and creators who are transforming local and global communities through their respective talents.
For this segment in our series, we explore Saraciea’s advocacy of the Latinx community through her use of written documentation as a pathway to retain the complex, rich histories of the past while also igniting the spirits of new stories to reimagine the framework of the future of Latinx peoples.
We spoke with author Saraciea Fennell to learn how she taps into the magic of writing, how literature can be used as a tool for community building, and how she embodies Together Somos Más to inspire the next generation of Latinx writers.
Interview has been condensed and edited for clarity purposes.
Can you provide a brief introduction to yourself and the work you do?
My name is Saraciea Fennell, and I am a Brooklyn-born black Honduran from the Boogie Down Bronx. I am a writer, publicist, and also the founder of the Bronx is Reading, a multidimensional organization that includes a nonprofit arm, an online and pop-up bookstore. Through panels, literary festivals, or author signings, I get to meld together my writer hat and my publicist hat by curating events in the Boogie Down.
When did you first discover that you wanted to be a writer?
I first discovered I wanted to be a writer when I was about eight or nine years old. Coming from a family of oral storytellers, I was obsessed with being told stories passed down to me through different people in my family as a kid. My mom or aunts would tell me various stories, my cousins and I would tell each other stories during bedtime to fall asleep. So at the age of eight or nine, I got very into writing poetry, journaling a lot, and devoured books. I had wonderful mentors in school who really encouraged me to write, but I never thought about being traditionally published. For the most part, I actually never knew that writing was a career – until undergraduate when I majored in English and discovered the publishing industry. Once I knew a little more about the publishing industry, I decided this is a viable career and something I could do. From there, I just started writing.
How old were you when you wrote your first published work? Can you talk more about what that process was like for you?
I was in high school when I officially became published. I had a poem run online and in our school newspaper, and it was the greatest feeling in the entire world. I felt like a mini-celebrity. I had teachers and other students coming up to me and praising me for the poems that I had written. That propelled me to continue to write, so I ended up writing a play for my high school and had two seasons where I did the showcase. In college, I pivoted away from poetry and started to get into journalistic style writing. I wrote for my college newspaper covering sports and entertainment. It was a lot of fun, and I found a new joy in writing personal pieces about my life. So as a young adult, I was officially published in publications. Each time I had something published, I was going after something bigger. I’m so excited and so thrilled I get to tell stories for a living.
Your latest release, Wild Tongues Can’t Be Tamed, is a collection of stories of the Latinx diaspora told by a new generation of Latinx writers. What does it mean for you to have an anthology like this not only carried in, but supported and celebrated by stores like Walmart?
It is such an amazing opportunity for me and all of the Latinx writers to have Walmart carry and support my anthology. Wild Tongues Can’t Be Tamed features 15 different voices from the Latinx diaspora, which was such an honor and really important because it shares the message that we are not a monolith. There are so many multifaceted things about us, our countries, and how we lead our lives. It was super important to me that I had as much representation in this collection as possible, and I wanted to make sure that I made space for marginalized voices that included black, indigenous, and queer Latinx writers. So to have our book carried by a major brand in a store like Walmart is insane – it’s out of this world. I am immensely happy and want to shout from the rooftops because it means that people can access these stories more easily and discover new voices. In areas where there aren’t local independent bookstores, they can go into Walmart, get a copy of this book, and read the wonderful essays and poems included in this collection written by some of the most amazing writers of our time.
In celebration of Our Heritage Month, Remezcla and Walmart are joining forces to celebrate that Together Somos Más. What does the phrase mean to you, and how does it play into the ethos of the world of literature?
Together Somos Más means that we are stronger together. When we can sit and have dialogue to build community, we can set aside our differences and talk about the different challenges in our lives and our communities. Once we can have discourse, we can figure out a path forward. Together Somos Más because the world of literature needs more Latinx stories. There are so many wonderful writers who have come before me and who inspire me every single day. There are new writers aspiring to be published one day who also inspire me every day. I feel like together, we can build a community where we can uplift each other and encourage each other to write and continue to have our stories told.
What do you find makes a good story?
That is the million-dollar question. I feel like a great story allows us to connect in some way, whether in a positive or negative way. It’s a story that has moved you emotionally, and it could be any emotion: It could be joy. It could be anger. It could be you questioning what’s going to happen to this character. But it’s definitely something that moves you emotionally and makes you want to dive into the story even more. Good stories are what connects us, and sometimes they’re what disconnects us. I say that because there are things that we read and don’t know anything about. Sometimes, you are trying to find your way into the unknown and discover what those things are. I find that fascinating about stories. You can sit there and unravel as you search for the truth. I love stories where I can connect with a character… or eight characters. I just need to connect with the story in some way. I need to engage with it, and it has to move me in some kind of way.
“I want to document any histories that I can put down about my country and build and imagine a new world of what my culture could be.”
Now that these stories are accessible, as both the editor and contributing author, what types of dialogue are you hoping to inspire and spark within the Latinx community?
I hope that with the accessibility through Walmart, more Latinx individuals can walk into the store, pick up a copy of the book, flip through the pages, read an essay, read a poem, and use it as a conversation starter back home with their communities. There are so many topics in this book that range from mental health, anti-blackness, colorism, therapy – there is something in here for pretty much everyone. Let’s be real, there are many things in our community that we don’t like to talk about, so I am hoping people can use the book as a conversation starter however you need it, when you need it.
Writing carries the ability to document old worlds and also the ability to create new ones. In celebration of Our Heritage Month, why do you feel like that is an important tool for the community?
Using writing as a tool to document our histories and our futures is super important. When you come from a Latinx country, like Honduras, it’s really important for us to know where we come from. Growing up, I did not read a lot of Honduran writers. So as an adult writer today, I want to document any histories that I can put down about my country and build and imagine a new world of what my culture could be. I, as well as other writers who are writing within the Latinx canon, find that we have a responsibility to make sure that our stories are told, and we do so by celebrating heritage. We want to make sure people know that we exist because we do. We’re one of the larger populations in the U.S. and the world, so we must tell the stories the way we want them told. When it comes from the community, it’s more authentic. I don’t want to read books by outsiders telling our stories. I’m sure we’ve all been there before reading inauthentic things, and wondering “why is this character so stereotypical?” or “there were so many aspects of our culture and our lives that you could have included!” So I feel like I have an immense responsibility to carry that torch forward.