Samantha Mabry on list for National Book Award

Samantha Mabry. Photo by Laura Burlton.

Samantha Mabry, who grew up in Lake Highlands, has earned a spot on the long list for National Book Award for Young People’s Literature. The popular Young Adult (YA) writer attended Merriman Park Elementary and Forest Meadow Junior High before graduating from Richardson High’s visual arts magnet program in 1999.

The National Book Foundation says Mabry’s story based in a Texas of the future, All the Wind in the World, is “set in the cracked and arid deserts of the Southwest [and] follows two teenage laborers who learn the even the purest love is not without consequences.”

I chatted with Mabry before she got the big news, in anticipation of her appearance at independent bookstore Interabang Oct. 11. Her book will be released Oct. 12.

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When did you first begin writing? Do you recall the first thing you wrote?

I haven’t been writing for a very long time – just the last ten years. Many of my friends say they were writing stories as soon as they could hold a pen, but that wasn’t me. I was a voracious reader, and loved studying and writing about literature, but I was always very intimidated by the prospect of becoming a writer. The books I loved were so brilliant, and I didn’t think I had anything to say that hadn’t already been said. I started writing in earnest in graduate school, and that was for a class in creative nonfiction taught by Dennis Covington, who’s most known for his book Salvation on Sand Mountain. My first “real” piece of writing was personal essay about Bonnie and Clyde and my general fascination with outlaws. Then I got really into those ghost hunting shows on television and also the novelist Wilkie Collins, and I wrote a ghost story. I’m not so intimidated anymore, and inspiration strikes from all directions all the time.

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Your visit to Interabang is one of their YA Book Club events (Merriman Park grad Chandler Craig Baker kicked off Interabang’s YA Book Club). Have you ever been in a book club? Do you have any advice for folks who want to put one together?

I was a very solitary reader growing up, but I always loved, loved books. If I got good grades on my report cards, my dad would take me to BookStop on Mockingbird, which was where Premiere Video (RIP) used to be, and he would let me pick out a book, which was usually the latest in the Babysitters Club series. I wasn’t in a book club when I was younger, but I’m in one now. Each month we meet at a different place around Dallas and have drinks and dinner. Usually, most of us have read the book, but that’s only sort of a requirement. I feel like teens probably don’t need my advice when it comes to putting a group together. I talk with a lot of young people, and they are so much more resourceful and creative and socially savvy than I ever was. They interact with one another about books on places like Tumblr and Instagram, and seem to form great communities whether they are writers or readers or both.

You teach at El Centro College. What reading format are most of your students using? Do you see benefits/problems as young people use technology for reading? What do you use?

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I teach English Composition and also Latino Literature. Most of my students go with paper books, but there are some that buy digital copies and follow along from their computers or tablets. Some of them even read off their phones, which to me is wild. I’m also co-chair of our school’s Common Book program. We give out around 500 copies of our selected book each spring, and those are physical copies. I’m not ever going to judge how a person chooses to read, as long as they read. I like bookstores and holding books and dog-earing pages, but some people have constraints on their space or their pocketbook, and so eBooks make more sense for them. I have a Nook, but don’t use it all that much – usually just when I’m in the bathtub or out in the country in a hammock. I’m a very analog person. More than anything, I use my library card and check out physical books from the public library. I ride my bicycle to and from work, so I’m at the Jonsson Central branch at least every couple of weeks.

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Your new book is a futuristic love story set in rural West Texas. Is it a story teens might get lost in or one with deep lessons about the world?

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More than being concerned about teaching any kind of lesson, I’m interested in telling a good story. I know that when I’m drafting I sometimes get stuck on all the grand things I want to say about the world, but when it comes down to it, I have to have basic elements like a plot that makes sense and dialogue that’s not stilted, or else the story just doesn’t work.

You were raised on Church Road, where your dad, Theron Mabry, still lives with your stepmother, Barbara. What do you recall about life in LH?

The first thing I remember is going to dance class at Kitty Carter’s Dance Factory, down Abrams from Forest Meadow, for years. But when I was really little, my dad would always take me to Penny Whistle Park on Northwest Highway. I was in a Girl Scout troop at Merriman Park (our number was 1981), and I remember us going on little trips to White Rock Lake to work toward badges. When I was older, I was at the White Rock Skate rink practically every weekend, and was always jealous that all my friends got fancy roller skates, and I never did and had to wear those brown rentals with the orange wheels. At the rink, they would play “Thriller” once a night and break out the fog machine. Good times.

Today Mabry lives in Deep Ellum with husband, Jeff Schulze.

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You can see a full list of National Book Award honorees here. Finalists will be announced Oct. 4 and winners will be announced at a ceremony in New York Nov. 15.

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