Since 2000, the Library of Congress National Book Festival has hosted many notable writers in Washington, D.C. On September 1, 2018, one particularly memorable headlining author was U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. Usually children’s authors present on the Children’s Stages at the convention center, but Sotomayor’s was held in the largest hall also known as the Main Stage. As such, she holds the distinction of being the first ever children’s author on the Main Stage.
Librarian of Congress Dr. Carla Hayden interviewed Sotomayor about her writing. Sotomayor, the first Latina to serve in the high court, published her memoir My Beloved World for adults in 2013. At the Festival this month, she explained that it was her cousin Miriam, a middle school bilingual education teacher, who urged her to put out an autobiography geared toward younger audiences.
“But you know I have a day job and sometimes I’m very, very busy,” Sotomayor remarked, as the audience laughed.
Her efforts since then resulted in two books: The Beloved World of Sonia Sotomayor for middle schoolers and Turning Pages: My Life Story for younger children. Sotomayor highlighted a couple of her favorite parts of Turning Pages, beautifully illustrated by Lulu Delacre. To Sotomayor, the key ingredients to her success were hard work, big dreams, and an immense love for reading books. Comic books, for example, helped her feel like a superhero and overcome her fear of the glucose shot needles that she needed to treat her diabetes. That page in the book depicts a young Sonia transforming into a Super Sonia or Supergirl to get the job done.
During the panel, she observed that as a child, she didn’t see much in the way of biographies about individuals “with curly hair and who spoke Spanish” like her. Her releases are part of broadening the narrative of successful people across different backgrounds. Turning Pages is already available for purchase in Spanish as Pasando Páginas. Beloved World has its Spanish release this November. “It is very important to me that everything I write be translated into Spanish,” Sotomayor emphasized about accessibility.
It was the television show Perry Mason, not books, that first introduced her to the role of a lawyer. “My first childhood understanding of lawyers and law was that they helped people and that seemed like the really good thing for me to do,” Sotomayor shared.She further described how her understanding of law evolved through her studies as she explained, “Laws are not morality. They’re not right and wrong. They are a way of regulating our relationship so we can manage our competing interests.”
Prior to the Main Stage event, attendees could write questions on index cards and submit them to the Festival volunteers. To the surprise of many, Sotomayor asked for the question writers to stand when Dr. Hayden read their cards aloud. With Secret Service in tow, she ventured into the aisles to greet them and answer their questions.
“People that are most anxious to learn are the people who tend to do the most in life,” she said to Maria, a young girl who dreams of becoming president.
Sotomayor also recognized the challenges involved, when she told another person, “We can become anything we want to through hard work, getting yourself educated, and as I said before, practice. But there are a lot of naysayers who will pop up in your world, people who will tell you, ‘You’re a woman. You can’t do that.’”
To catch up on everything from the Sonia Sotomayor panel, check out the full video. If you look closely a few seconds after the 56th minute, you may spot a certain young Blogcritics correspondent in blue standing close to her. More importantly, Sotomayor is currently on a book tour, so there are still opportunities to see her in person and get a book signed. If you’re interested in the opportunity to see other incredible authors at next year’s National Book Festival, that date has already been set for August 31, 2019. Hope to see you there!