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Five questions for Sonia Manzano

Photo: Edward Pagan

Photo: Edward Pagan

Sonia Manzano’s forty-four-year run as Sesame Street‘s Maria recently came to a close, but that doesn’t mean she’s taking it easy. Her newest book, Becoming Maria: Love and Chaos in the South Bronx (Scholastic, 14 years and up), is a memoir in which Manzano recounts her rough childhood and adolescence, ending just as she auditions for the show that becomes her home. It’s an unflinching tale, with raw language that’s sure to make Big Bird blush.

1. Over the years, you won fifteen Emmys for your work on Sesame Street. What did you learn about writing for the show that transferred over to writing books for children and young adults?

SM: Writing for Sesame Street taught me that one should never talk down to children. Children have an infinite capacity for understanding — the challenge is presenting complex or sophisticated ideas in “bite-sized” pieces.

2. You write candidly about your father’s alcoholism and his physical abuse of your mother. Was it difficult to write about these things? And how has your family felt about you putting all of that out in the open?

SM: Of course it was difficult to write about the dysfunctional parts of my upbringing. On the other hand, writing about those issues was relieving, as I could put them outside of myself.

Sadly, my parents, youngest brother Enrique, and cousin Eddie have passed on. One distant cousin loves the book. The rest of my clan has not had the opportunity to share their thoughts with me yet. But I can say that, so far, the most remarkable thing has been that my siblings and I remembered events so differently!

manzano_becoming maria3. You also touch on the challenges of navigating your different worlds while attending Carnegie Mellon University, an environment very far removed from the Bronx. As you continued to move through life, did you find it any easier to balance or reconcile those worlds?

SM: Maturity makes us all navigate through life more smoothly. So far I have been a bi-cultural person living in a mono-cultural society. That seems to be changing though…

4. If you could talk to your younger self, knowing what you know now, what would you tell her?

SM: I would tell my younger self to slow down and to really listen to people. I would remind myself that there are people of good will in the world. Also, I’d learn to play an instrument.

5. You recently retired from Sesame Street after forty-four years as the beloved Maria. So…marry, kiss, or cliff: Big Bird, Elmo, Grover?

SM: I am not sure I understand this question. But my favorite character has always been Oscar the Grouch. I jokingly say I’ve left the show because forty-four years was long enough to wait for Oscar to propose!

From the August 2015 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

Randy Ribay About Randy Ribay

Randy Ribay teaches high school English at an all-boys charter school in Philadelphia and is a regular reviewer for The Horn Book Guide. He holds a B.A. in English Literature from the University of Colorado and an Ed.M. in Language & Literacy from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. He is the author of An Infinite Number of Parallel Universes (Merit Press, Oct 2015).

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