Photographic: Author Isabel Quintero's 2018 BGHB Nonfiction Award Speech

Back in 2007, my now-ex-husband and I visited the Getty museum for the first time. I had received an email about Graciela Iturbide’s “The Goat’s Dance” exhibit. I was mesmerized by the images of a ritual that has been taking place for more than five hundred years in La Mixteca, an area of Mexico that covers parts of Puebla, Guerrero, and Oaxaca. The images were visceral and compelling and so many things. So when in 2016 Ruth Lane, my now-editor at the Getty, asked if I was interested in writing the manuscript for a young-adult graphic biography about Graciela Iturbide’s life, I said, “ F*** yeah!” (though in my email I was much more professional). Then when she asked if I knew an illustrator I’d like to work with I also said, “F*** yeah! Zeke Peña!” I called Zeke and asked him what he was doing for the next year. See, Zeke is the one responsible for the badass cover of my first book, Gabi, a Girl in Pieces. Cinco Puntos, who published Gabi, is a small independent publisher out of El Paso, and they had asked Zeke to do the cover. It was the first book for both of us, and Zeke included me in the process. I didn’t learn until later that this wasn’t always the case — that illustrators/book designers and authors don’t usually know each other or get to speak directly to each other. But we came to respect each other’s work and had been talking about doing other projects together, and so when Ruth asked if I knew anyone, I immediately thought of Zeke.

Iturbide’s images are often disturbing but always truthful. And though she wouldn’t call her work political, I’d have to respectfully disagree. She photographs marginalized communities in Mexico and around the world. In Oaxaca, she spent years photographing the Zapotec women of Juchitán. Her images are of Indigenous folx thriving despite discrimination and injustice. In the photographs the women laugh and go about their daily business; it is not voyeuristic. It is simply a documentation of Indigenous people being joyful and resilient in spite of violence and government-sanctioned oppression. That is political.

These are the same reasons I like Zeke’s work so much. If you haven’t checked out Zeke’s art, you should. His work also speaks to and about the injustice, violence, and oppression of marginalized and Indigenous communities. Communities of color; communities on the border. It is also compelling and beautiful. This is why I wanted to work with him on this project.

I want to say thank you to the Boston Globe–Horn Book Awards committee and judges who read through all those books and thought ours was worthy of recognition. To Ruth, Maureen, Jim, Michelle, and everyone else at the Getty. To Mary McCoy, the Los Angeles Public librarian who suggested that Ruth talk to me about this project and went on to write a beautiful letter of support without having met me. Thank you to Graciela Iturbide for answering all our questions. To Oswaldo, her assistant, and Rose of ROSEGALLERY for the interview and for the beautiful book launch. Thank you to Abrams Books for all the support and love. To Cinco Puntos Press and the Byrds for introducing Zeke and me to each other. To the librarians, educators, and readers who have already shown such great support for the book. Thank you to my parents Lupe y Victor, and my brother Victor. To all my friends for their support, and obviously thank you to Zeke for his patience and encouragement.

From the January/February 2019 issue of The Horn Book Magazine. Read Photographic: The Life of Graciela Iturbide illustrator Zeke Peña’s speech here. For more on the 2018 Boston Globe–Horn Book Awards, click on the tag BGHB18.
Isabel Quintero
Isabel Quintero

Isabel Quintero is author of the 2018 Boston Globe–Horn Book Nonfiction Award winner Photographic: The Life of Graciela Iturbide (Getty). She wrote My Papi Has a Motorcycle, which received a 2020 Pura Belpré Honor for illustration, and the forthcoming To Catch a Witch (Kokila/Penguin).

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