Wednesday, February 14, 2024

Q&A with Amy Friedman and Leticia Longoria-Navarro


Amy Friedman



Amy Friedman and Leticia Longoria-Navarro are the editors of the new anthology Advice to 9th Graders: Stories, Poetry, Art & Other Wisdom. Friedman is a founder of the group POPS the Club, which focuses on the children of people in prison. Longoria-Navarro is the executive director of The Pathfinder Network, which helps people affected by the justice system.


Q: Why did you decide to focus on 9th graders in this anthology?


A: For the past 11 years, ever since POPS the Club was founded, we have noticed two things.


First, most (though not all) 9th graders feel far more shy than do their older peers about walking through the door of a club. And so, each year one of the many writing prompts we gave students was “What is your advice to 9th graders?”

Leticia Longoria-Navarro

Responses invariably were simple and profound, humorous, honest, and touched upon subjects so many adults never consider kids might need (one example: How much money should I bring to school?).


We decided that by focusing a whole volume on such advice we could tap into the wisdom of the kids in every club, in every city. Teenagers are seldom asked to give advice. We think that is one mistake adults make, and we hope this volume will prove valuable to 8th and 9th graders everywhere as they navigate a challenging moment in their lives.


And this book, while centered on 9th graders, speaks to a much wider audience—teachers, administrators, social workers, counselors, judges, lawyers, and, indeed, anyone engaged in any way with the justice system. 


Q: How did you choose the stories, poetry, and art to include in the book?


A: We invited every PATHfinder club and POPS the Club member—including the middle schoolers served, the graduates and the club leaders—to ponder the question: What advice would you give to 9th graders?


The volume reflects the wide range not only of responses but also many different obsessions, and styles. Some chose to write poetry, others to paint or draw or photograph; some chose to write straightforward, declarative sentences and paragraphs.


And we reviewed, studied, and pondered every piece submitted, determined to include all those who submitted work and who willingly revised when asked. We designed the book to enable readers to dip in on any page and find nuggets of wisdom.


Q: How does this book fit in with the other POPS the Club anthologies you have published?


A: The primary difference between Advice to 9th Graders and our previous seven anthologies is that this is the first time we invited contributors to focus on a specific topic—and a specific audience.


Despite that difference that has resulted in a slightly shorter volume with many shorter pieces than those found in our previous works, this book, like its predecessors, reflects the diversity, honesty, humor, resilience and wisdom of these teens (and a few pre-teens)!


And it turns out, it holds appeal for every imaginable reader—not just 9th graders.


Q: What do you hope readers take away from this book?


A: We hope that this book will be a useful guide for 9th graders everywhere—an invitation to them to not be shy about asking any questions that pops into their minds and an invitation, too, to think about what advice they might offer others.


We hope too that school administrators, teachers, school staff, and general readers will recognize the wit and wisdom teenagers have to offer and will be entertained and enlightened by the way these young people share their innermost thoughts and dreams.


And we believe the book will encourage adults to realize it’s important to ask teenagers questions and to offer an attitude of respect, curiosity and a longing to learn how to see (again) the world through teenagers’ eyes. 


Q: What are you working on now?


A: We’ve already begun collecting work for the next PATHfinder Club/POPS the Club anthology which we will publish in early 2025, and already we sense it will be a beautiful collection.


We also recently launched a Video Library, Impacts of Incarceration, that we are proud of and excited about. A You-Tube based library, Impacts features interviews with youth and adults speaking about their experiences with incarceration.


Each video runs between two and 12 minutes and cover a range of topics, including experiences in school; anger; prison visiting; trust; and family relationships.


Like our anthologies, these interviews offer wisdom, solace, inspiration, and companionship to the millions of children and adults whose lives are impacted by incarceration, detention, and deportation.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: We welcome hearing from listeners about our work. We invite everyone to look at our website and to send us comments, questions, or ideas you might have to, and to join our newsletter.


While we are not currently accepting outside submissions, in future we plan to do so. Also, we are able to provide bulk rates on sales of the anthologies. Again, anyone interested in learning about these, please use the contact above.


And thank you so much for giving us an opportunity to tell the story of Advice to 9th Graders.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Amy Friedman.

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