Shelf Life: Elizabeth Acevedo

Portrait by Denzel Golatt / Illustration by Yousra Attia

Welcome to Shelf Life,’s books column, in which authors share their most memorable reads. Whether you’re on the hunt for a book to console you, move you profoundly, or make you laugh, consider a recommendation from the writers in our series, who, like you (since you’re here), love books. Perhaps one of their favorite titles will become one of yours, too.




Elizabeth Acevedo turned her MFA thesis in creative writing (University of Maryland) into the chapbook Beastgirl & Other Origin Myths and now one of her poems from her undergrad honors thesis in performing arts (George Washington University) has been published as Inheritance: A Visual Poem (Quill Tree Books).

The New York-born and -raised, Washington, DC-based author has written three young adult novels, including the NYT-bestselling Poet X, which won the National Book Award, the Pura Belpré Award, and the Carnegie medal among other honors. She is writing the pilot for and executive producing the television series based on her novel Clap When You Land for Bruna Papandrea’s Made Up Stories (inspired by the Dominican-Republic-bound American Airlines Flight 587 that crashed in Queens, New York) and the script for the film adaptation of her With the Fire on High. Her de ella first novel for adults, about a Dominican family attending a still living matriarch’s wake, will be published in 2023.

The eleven-aspiring rapper was part of the 2014 National Poetry Slam-winning DC Beltway Poetry Slam team (author Clint Smith was a teammate), and competed in a NY poetry slam hosted by Kanye West in 2014.

She played high school and college intramural basketball, took up candle making during the pandemic, taught 8th-grade English in Prince George’s County, Maryland through Teach For America, started writing when her predominantly Black and Latinx students didn’t see themselves in books, was a teaching artist at a juvenile detention center, is superstitious, and interned at the Library of Congress.

Part of campaigns for Valentino, Estée Lauder and Dove, she has given talks from schools and TED to Converse and the Aspen Institute. Likes: Sweater weather, bright colors and big hoops, buying puzzles. Dislikes: The idea of ​​being on reality TV, doing puzzles. Supports: The Brotherhood Sister Sol.

The book that…

… kept me up way too late:

Ocean Vuong’s On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous. The sheer lyricism of his writing had me incapable of abandoning the story.

…made me weep uncontrollably in public:

Naima Coster’s What’s Mine and Yours. Coster is a brilliant writer who navigates difficult family relationships in a way that doesn’t shy away from breaking a heart and holding up each piece to the light.

…I recommend over and over again:

The Secret Lives of Church Ladies by Deesha Philyaw. This collection of short stories is warm, sharp, familiar, and refreshing. I can’t say enough.

…shaped my worldview:

Lucille Clifton’s poetry collection good woman. I have long considered her the secret godmother of my writing since I was 15, and this was the first collection of hers I owned by her.

…I read in one sitting:

Set Boundaries, Find Peace by Nedra Glover Tawwab. It was that good and that informative on how to honor better relationships with yourself and others.

…currently sitting on my nightstand:

I have an early copy of Safia Elhillo’s Girls That Never Dieand I am savoring it slowly.

…I’d pass on to my kid:

Julian Randall’s Pilar Ramirez and the Escape from Zafabecause it’s historically driven, the voice is witty, and the adventure keeps you glued to the page.

…I’d gift to a new graduate:

The Afrominimalist’s Guide to Living With Less by Christine Platt. New graduates are already pressured to want more, to compare to their peers, and I think coming into your own as an adult with a philosophy around consumption would be imperative to designing a singular life.

…made me laugh out loud:

Sabrina & Corina by Kali Fajardo-Anstine. It’s not a funny collection of stories, per se, but Fajarado-Anstine’s voice from Ella is so in tune with her characters from Ella that their observations from Ella and sneak disses from Ella had me barking out laugh after laugh.

…should be on every college syllabus:

How The Word is Passed by Clint Smith. This book is fundamental to understanding how, why, and when commemorations around slavery have happened in the United States and the ramifications of honoring but not acknowledging the sins of slaveholders.

…makes me feel seen:

Eve L. Ewing’s Electric Arches. This is a poetry collection full of so much tenderness, beauty, Afro-futurism; I was awed.

…fills me with hope:

Heavy by Kiese Laymon. This memoir is so loving, but unflinchingly honest and the way Laymon is soft towards himself and family helps me realize how loving I can be towards myself and my own.

…surprised me:

Angela Garbes’s Like a Mother, in its candor and the way in which it poetically explains so much about pregnancy and childbirth. Who knew the placenta was such a magical organ?!

…taught me this Jeopardy!-worthy bit of information:

From Courtney Milan’s romance novel The Devil Comes Courting: Early telegraphic line networks were built, embedded into the ocean floor, and insulated with the plant-based, and revolutionary use of, gutta-percha.

Bonus question: If I could live in any library or bookstore in the world, it would be:

The Grand Splendid Athenaeum in Buenos Aires, Argentina. It’s glorious!

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