About the Author: Clap When You Land
By Elizabeth Acevedo
I come from a community-driven people; my very large Dominican family and the very Black and Brown neighborhood I was raised in New York both put a strong emphasis on building tight connections, supporting one another when traditional channels failed us, and continuously communicating the needs of ourselves and those we love to the people in power.
In the midst of this COVID-19 Pandemic, I sit on the phone with my mother, who is hundreds of miles away, and yet, now that we are both quarantined, and she and I are talking more, it seems like in many ways the physical distance has collapsed. The only thing that matters is whether or not I can find her favorite brand of Malta on a grocery app. Shopping together has become a new activity as I try to help her stay indoors. It reminds me of grocery shopping with her when I was little, only this time I don’t have to anxiously wait in line while she promises she’s just going to get one last thing! She’s even sent my husband an invitation to join her siblings-only weekly prayer call.
My best friend and I have FaceTimed more in the last month than we did in the last decade; we need to not only hear, but also see, that the other is doing well. I did an Instagram Live event last month, the first time I’ve connected with my followers in that way, and although I set out to do a twenty-minute reading, I ended up doing an hour-long craft talk because people had questions, and because I was so dang happy to be interacting with other humans my introvert-self leaned into the thrill. I’m emailing other writers to see how to support debuts. I’m talking with indie bookstore owners on grassroots ways to be supportive. I tuned in with 200 other people to watch a close homie defend his dissertation at Harvard.
My novel, Clap When You Land is a story that circles a lot of these same themes: pain in the face of an international tragedy, the ways in which specific ethnic groups feel the crunch disproportionately, and the ways in which the personal joys and despair balance in comparison with the public ones. The story follows two sisters, Yahaira and Camino, who do not know about each other until their father dies in a plane crash and one of them receives grievance money from the airline.
It is loosely based on American Airlines Flight 587, which crashed in 2001 on its way from New York to the Dominican Republic. When that flight crashed, two months after the attack on the Twin Towers, I was 13 years old. I remember how that tragedy rocked my community: Mr. Gallego, father to my stoop buddy, was on that flight; one of my father’s friends from the barbershop was on that flight; it seemed everyone knew someone who knew someone who died in the crash. There were candlelight vigils in memory of the dead, hora santas held in homes jampacked with neighbors, and dedicated prayers at the weekly mass. As the losses grew large, we knit ourselves close.
It is interesting to be in a moment where I am releasing a novel in the midst of a very different crisis. And yet, I’m finding an overlap between how my community dealt with AA 587 and how it seems like we are currently dealing with COVID-19; it seems more imperative than ever that we keep reminding ourselves, we are not alone.
We are not alone in our fear, in our hurt, in our hope. We are not alone in our innovations for holding space for one another. So, we plan Zoom happy hours, and WhatsApp prayer circles, and we order our viejitos groceries and dinner; we trade recipes with old college friends and make book recommendations for childhood friends, and hop on phone calls with strangers who are trying to understand our industry.
Because when the turntable stops for a community of people, there is only one thing to do: extend your hand and invite someone to stand with you until the next track drops a beat.
Elizabeth Acevedo is the author of The Poet X—which won the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, the Michael L. Printz Award, the Pura Belpré Award, the Boston Globe–Horn Book Award, and the Walter Award—as well as With the Fire on High and Clap When You Land. She is a National Poetry Slam champion and holds an MFA in creative writing from the University of Maryland. Acevedo lives with her partner in Washington, DC. You can find out more about her at www.acevedowrites.com.