Photographic: Illustrator Zeke Peña's 2018 BGHB Nonfiction Award Speech

Greeting friends and relatives, my father is Ricardo Peña and my mother is Anna Lisa Banegas-Peña-Téllez-Ybarra-Valencia-Lemos. I figured since we are celebrating Latinx people this month I’d share her whole name. My name is Zeke Peña, I was born in a small town in Southern New Mexico near the Rio Grande, and I grew up on the U.S./MX border in El Paso, Tejas. Thank you for allowing me to share a little bit about myself and the process of working on Photographic. This award brings me, my family, and my community so much joy and gratitude.

Even though I went to some really great schools in my youth, I grew up in what is now ranked the third most illiterate city in the United States. The El Paso region is a desert in many ways, and access to literature, bookstores, and comic-book stores is pretty scarce. We only have a handful of them, and libraries are definitely a sanctuary. But this void is also great for exercising imagination and visualization. Where most people see empty space in the endless dirt or sky, I’ve always seen possibility. Border communities along the United States and Mexico boundary exist between nations, languages, and cultural worlds. From a young age I always had a relentless curiosity to explore how to navigate that space. I’ve always been interested in people and their stories.

In 2004, to my mom’s dismay, I took a bus trip through northern Mexico. You know — the “I’m gonna find myself trip.” This was the flip-phone era. No Google Maps or scrolling through Instagram when you’re bored, but a friend gave me a small book to take along with me. It was a pocket-size collection of photographs by Graciela Iturbide. I didn’t really find myself on this trip, but I met some amazing people and ate some great food, and Graciela’s photographs were a part of that experience. So, fourteen years later it is my great honor to pay homage to such a unique and creative person who is still capturing moments today. She is still relentlessly curious to engage with people in a real way, and luckily she is willing to share that with us through her photography.

The Boston Globe–Horn Book Award is my first book award for my first published work and my first graphic narrative. I learned how to do illustration by watching YouTube and asking friends willing to share. I bring this up only to note that we are in an era of possibility for storytellers to be autonomous and produce their own stories.

It was such a crazy and insanely enjoyable process working on this book. I’d like to thank Isabel for taking me along on this ride. To Cinco Puntos Press for bringing Isabel and me together; Ruth Lane for dreaming up this awesome project. Jim Drobka, Michelle Deemer, Maureen Winter, and the entire Getty family for their support in helping us produce it. To Abrams Books for supporting our work and helping us get this book in the hands of young readers. Thanks to all the people who have let me sleep on their couches over the years. My sister’s family who kept calm during the madness of this deadline as I slept on their couch for a few weeks. My partner Rebecca Rivas who has always supported my work and is also my editor with benefits. To my amazing mother who would drive me to comic shops so I could dork out and my late father who bought me a drafting table at age thirteen. Even though I didn’t get that architecture degree, I’m still using it in the studio to tell stories and make you proud. To Graciela, for opening up a window into her world, trusting us with her story, and letting us see the world through her lens. To the Boston Globe–Horn Book Awards committee. Finally to these amazing creators and storytellers that I’ve had the pleasure of sharing the stage with as well as those who couldn’t attend—for inspiring young minds to have courage in search of something different.

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

Zeke Peña is illustrator of the 2018 Boston Globe–Horn Book Nonfiction Award winner Photographic: The Life of Graciela Iturbide (Getty). He received a 2020 Belpré Honor for illustration for his latest book, My Papi Has a Motorcycle (Kokila/Penguin).

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