5 Questions for Natalia Sylvester

Born in Lima, Peru, Natalia Sylvester Came to the U.S. at age four and grew up in Florida and the Rio Grande Valley in Texas.

She received a BA in Creative Writing from the University of Miami and now works as a freelance writer in Texas. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Bustle, Catapult, Electric Literature, Latina Magazine, McSweeney’s Publishing, and the Austin American-Statesman.

Natalia’s first novel, Chasing the Sun, was named the Best Debut Book of 2014 by Latinidad. Her latest novel, Everyone Knows You Go Home, won an International Latino Book Award, the 2018 Jesse H. Jones Award for Best Work of Fiction from the Texas Institute of Letters, and was named a Best Book of 2018 by Real Simple Magazine.

Natalia’s debut YA novel, Running, is forthcoming in July 2020 from Clarion Books/HMH. Visit her at nataliasylvester.com. Natalia hangs out on Instagram, Twitter, and her Facebook page.

Voyage: What was the inspiration behind your latest novel, Running?

Natalia Sylvester: I remember this moment so clearly! During the summer of the 2016 elections, I was having breakfast one morning and watching the news. I was sitting on my couch, cereal bowl in hand, and they started playing footage of one of the presidential candidate’s speeches. It wasn’t a candidate I was interested in, but what caught my eye was the candidate’s daughter, who was standing in the background. She had a look on her face that made me wonder what it must be like to be her in that moment, and all the behind-the-scene moments she must’ve endured during the campaign.

V: When you write your stories, what is the one thing you hope readers will take away?

NS: Something personal. Something they connect to deeply and speaks to them in a truthful way. It’s different for everyone, but that’s the beauty of writing. You can write one story, but it will become a thousand different stories in the minds of a thousand different readers.

V: What was the hardest scene of Running to write?

NS: Oh! This is so hard to say without giving away spoilers! But there is a very important scene in the book (one that the cover hints at!) that I procrastinated writing for such a long time because I was scared the intense emotions that I hoped to convey on the page wouldn’t live up to my imagination. In the end, I think the fact that I took my time with it, let it kind of marinate in my mind for a while, is what made it work. Maybe what made it *feel* hard to write was just the writing process playing out in its own way. I’m glad I didn’t fight it or try to rush it.

V: If you could tell your younger writer self anything, what would it be?

NS: I would tell her not to be afraid of speaking up and sharing her words with the world, but also that it’s okay that she’s scared right now. The fear will pass, or maybe it won’t, but you’ll learn to use it as fuel. Eventually your desire to speak your truths becomes stronger than the fear, and you might not feel 100% ready for it when that happens…but that’s how you grow stronger.

V: What are your writing must-haves?

NS: This is going to sound strange, but I have this one big blue sweater that I wear whenever I’m writing. I guess it’s like a comfort blanket? My theory is that writing asks us to be vulnerable, so I seek out comfort and safety as I do it. 

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