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Q&A with Erin Kelly

Rosemont College - September 30, 2018

You Go First book cover.

Rosemont College professor and Philadelphia-based writer Erin Entrada Kelly joined the ranks of literary greats this past winter when her novel Hello, Universe was awarded the John Newbery Medal for the outstanding children’s book of 2018.

The novel now resides in the company of classics such as Madeline L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, Lois Lowry’s The Giver, and Katherine Paterson’s Bridge to Terabithia.

Kelly began writing Hello, Universe as a graduate student in Rosemont’s MFA in Creative Writing Program, but never dreamed it would have so much success. Recently, we caught up with Kelly to discuss craft, her time at Rosemont, and how it feels to be an accomplished novelist.

For more info about Erin Kelly, visit her site:

Q: First, why do you write?

A: I've been writing since I was a little girl. I can't imagine life without paper and pen.When you’re not writing, what do you like to read? Do you have a favorite novel?

I read just about everything -- picture books, middle grade, young adult, adult, and nonfiction. I also read across genres. I love historical nonfiction and Gothic fiction. Some of my favorite books are Wuthering Heights, The Thing About Jellyfish, The One and Only Ivan, When You Reach Me, Geek Love, and The Irreversible Decline of Eddie Socket. 

Q: Who are some of your favorite authors? How have they inspired you?

A: I love Rebecca Stead and Kate Morton. When I was a kid, Judy Blume was my favorite. I'm inspired any time I read a book or graphic novel, no matter who wrote it. You have an MFA in Creative Writing from Rosemont College. How was your experience? Would you encourage other writers to take creative writing courses? Do you feel that it made you a better writer?

As with anything in life, you get back what you give. One of the best things about my time at Rosemont is that I was forced to read and write outside of my comfort zone, and that makes for better work. I also appreciate the close-knit atmosphere of Rosemont's MFA program, its acceptance of many different writing styles and visions, and its active reading series.

Q: Can you tell us about your writing process? What’s a typical writing day like for you?

A: There's no typical day, but my writing process always begins with longhand. I use notebooks. I do all my revisions in longhand, as well. I believe strongly in the power of pen to paper!

Q: As a middle-grade author, you have a lot of freedom to create weird and wonderful characters. What inspires you when you’re thinking up new characters? How do you ensure that your characters will appeal to young readers?

A: I'm inspired all the time by people I meet, things I observe, my own experiences, and other writers. I can never be sure my characters will appeal to anyone -- all I can do is write as best I can!

Q: How did “Hello, Universe” begin? Was it a character? An image? An idea?

A: All of my books begin with an image of a character. The idea grows from there.

Q: Did you write “Hello, Universe” for yourself, or did you write the novel with a particular child/children in mind?

A: Both. I write all my books with a specific reader in mind. Usually the quiet underdog.

Q: Hello, Universe” has won the John Newbery Medal for the outstanding children’s book of 2018. How does it feel to win this prestigious award?

A: I'm not sure how it feels. It still hasn't sunk in yet!

Q: What’s next?

A: My fourth book, You Go First, comes out on April 10th. It's partly set in the Philadelphia area.