Saturday, November 8, 2008

RichWriters Interview with Former Executive Editor of Harper Collins Children's and Rayo, Adriana Dominguez --- Part 1

RichWriters had the opportunity to speak with one of the most well-liked and respected executive level editors in publishing today. A real and true Latino Hero in book publishing. This interview was conducted before Ms. Dominguez left the company to pursue new opportunities. She remains a force to reckon with in the industry.

Jeff Rivera: Hello, Adriana, can you tell us what is it that you specialize in.

Adriana Dominguez: My formal title is Executive Editor at Harper Collins Children's Books and Rayo and I specialize in children and young adult books particularly for the Latino market and I work on books in Spanish, English and bilingual format.

Jeff Rivera: And why young adult? Why children? Why not nonfiction? Why that group particularly?

Adriana Dominguez: Why children? Well, it is my background. I have been working in the children's market now for about 10 years. So this is not necessary something that is new to me and, I sort of started in children by mistake almost and it is all by mistake, but it is just one of those things why I wanted to go into publishing and children happens to be really where the opportunity came from. But over the years, I realized that I was very lucky to have landed in exactly the right place because I arrived here as a child when I was 12 years old as an immigrant. I was put into a bilingual program. I did not speak a word of English. I felt very alienated and it was a real challenge for me to sort of figure out where I was going to fit in to this new culture, and a bilingual teacher helped me with that and knowing that I have books that I could still read in Spanish helps me with that.

And so I feel that I identify with the kids who are reading the books that I have helped to produce. I know the realities and I could encourage and help authors to write from a point of view that they can really identify with. So I feel that beyond just the career choice, it is really just the real reflection on my personal growth and what I have achieved since I arrived here as a 12-year-old and I am hoping that title carry on to the future generations of Latino children.

Jeff Rivera: Well, let me ask you this. When you came to this country, you did not speak any English?

Adriana Dominguez: Not at all.

Jeff Rivera: So does it kind of surprise you when you step back and look like, "Wow!" Has not really been that low and clearly and obviously you speak excellent English and looked at what you have accomplished.

Adriana Dominguez: Yes, thanks. Yes it was surprising to folks I remember, but there are things I still remember. I still feel the part of me that still feel like the immigrant. I remember when I finished high school when I came here I started junior high school, I have to do a speech in front of my whole school because I had done so well in school and everyone was so impressed by that and I take that with a grain of salt because I adapt to that.

I was asked to make a speech in front of my school. It was a very short speech. It was a poem and I still I had a very thick accent and I still remember it until this day so the kids in the front row are making fun of my accent, and it is one of those things that stays with you not necessarily because it is a hard memory but because for me it is something that inspires me, something I see a kid. I recently went to volunteer with some kids at an urban city school and I sort of told my story about first arriving here. It is funny how things come full circle.

I had mentioned I did not speak a word of English and one of the kids in the classroom pointed to this girl who was roughly my age, she was in fifth grade and maybe a little younger than she had been when I got here, and said, "Oh, she doesn't speak English either." And pointed to her and I thought, "Oh, my God. She just singled her out and everything else," and I went over and I spoke with her in Spanish and then sort of…it is very gratifying to be able to help a kid that exactly who you are one time.

So yes, I always had a goal to first learn English then assimilate in someway and give back to the community and that is what I am hoping that I have done that I will continue to do.

Jeff Rivera: Do you find that, and I find this because I live in Miami and because my stepfather is Filipino and he did not speak English too, this is my personal question, do you find that there is a little bit of distaste or what not from some Americans about as if the person is maybe a second class citizen just because they do not speak English?

Adriana Dominguez: Well, that is a tough question. I think there are prices in every level. I think, at the same time, the reality for Latinos now is so much different than it was when I arrived here over 20 years ago. With the advent of the JLos all over the world and with Oscar Hijuelos and Junot Diaz winning Pulitzer and really contributing to mainstream culture beyond Latino culture. I think that the perceptions have changed tremendously. I remember being so very self-conscious of speaking Spanish in public when I first got here because I felt sort of like abduct and I do not feel that way anymore. It sort of almost become a hip to be alive in this country which is something I never thought I would look to see.

So I think we are in a different place now and sort of the way that the publishing industry for one has evolved shows that. There are still a lot of people out there doing some really great things. I hope to continue to do that as well and we are growing. We are changing and the numbers do not lie. One in four kids in the US is now of Latino heritage. So I think we need to look forward and I think we need to continue to look for ways that we can contribute to the society.

Jeff Rivera: That's very interesting.

Jeff Rivera: So speaking of submissions in particular, what do you find is really, really in demand or in need from houses or what not or maybe the houses you used to worked with or what you heard is really people within toward or what would your personal choice?

Adriana Dominguez: Well, what I had been telling folks for as long as I had been in Harper is something that to me is kind of self explanatory for anyone who is sort of familiar with Latino literature and the way Latino literature has evolved particularly in the children's market. There was a time when folks are writing books about what it meant to be Latino sort of explaining who we are and the kind of the spelling myths and that sort of thing and there were also plenty of books a few years ago that were reinforcing stereotypes. So in an effort to sort of explain what it meant to be Latino, they were not necessarily malicious but they just did not know any better and part of the reason for that was that they were not many people, any Latinos in the publishing industry. These books were not being edited, acquired and promoted and all that by Latinos.

So now you have an entirely new set of editors and entirely new sort of new generation within the publishing industry that are looking for things that really tell our stories that do not just explain who we are, and what I tell my authors is we do not want stories or what I used to tell at Harper when I worked in Harper when I went to writer's conference, they say, "I don't want stories that describe who we are. I want you to tell our stories because everybody has a story, and if your story happens to be a Latino story, that is fine and if it does not, that is fine too." What I was mostly interested in, it was just helping Latino authors get published at Harper. The content of the story to me as with any other author is a personal choice and the fact that you are a Latino author should not determine what type of story that you write. I think that was the most important to me.

Jeff Rivera: If you need help with your book promotion contact and we'll find a way to help you within your budget.