Jun 11, 2024 - World

Latina author wants readers to write their own family stories

Two photos are side by side. One is a portrait of Elba Iris Perez against a black backdrop. The other is a book cover for her book "The Things we don't know"

Photo: Cristie Reddehase. Book cover courtesy of Gallery Books/Simon&Schuster

A Latina author who was the first winner of a publishing prize for diverse voices says more Hispanics should strive to write their stories no matter how long it takes to become a book.

Why it matters: Latinos are still severely underrepresented in publishing.

  • Last year, 4.6% of workers in U.S. publishing identified as Hispanic/Latino, and 8% as biracial or multiracial, according to the latest Diversity Baseline Survey.
  • About 7% of U.S. published authors as of 2023 were Hispanic or Latino, per data compiled by the website Words Rated.

State of play: Elba Iris Pérez's debut, "The Things We Didn't Know" was the inaugural winner of the Books Like Us First Novel prize.

  • The contest, started in 2021 by Simon & Schuster, gives a book deal option to the winner and is rotated each year between the publisher's different imprints.

"The Things We Didn't Know" is partly inspired by a real Massachusetts community built around a mid-20th century paper mill where many workers were Puerto Rican.

  • The novel, set in the 1950s and 1960s, tells the story of two young siblings torn between trying to fit in the town after their father moves there or with their mother's relatives back on the island.
  • It became a USA Today bestseller when it was published in February.

What she's saying: "I'd love it if this encouraged more Latinos to write their stories, to hone their writing, weave their experiences into a novel," Pérez tells Axios Latino.

  • "Because it's so important that more of our stories be known, to fight the stereotypes built through the years, some of which have become almost mythologized and thought of as truth without us having our say."

The big picture: The U.S. publishing industry has been slowly diversifying in the past few years, opening more pathways for authors like Pérez.

  • Pérez says she unsuccessfully pitched the "Things We Didn't Know" manuscript to 15 publishers in the mid-2000s but that she thought to try again years later through the contest after seeing similar authors recently sell well.

Subscribe to Axios Latino to get vital news about Latinos and Latin America, delivered to your inbox on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Go deeper