The Theoretical Impossibility of Unhappiness in a Hammock--Erin Entrada Kelly in the KidLit Studio
Updated: Mar 14, 2021
We're all making different life choices during the pandemic, right? Different priorities, new challenges, etc. Me? I became a birder and went back to grad school for my MFA in writing for children and young adults from Hamline University. And that's where Erin Entrada Kelly comes into this story.
Every semester, students at Hamline's low-residency MFA are sorted into critique workshops led by faculty mentors, all of whom are working professionals. When I saw that one of my two mentors was Erin, I was star-struck but mostly managed not to embarrass myself. Erin Entrada Kelly, Newbery winner and NYT bestseller. NBD, right?
Erin won the 2018 Newbery Medal for her novel, Hello, Universe, a wonderful story about unexpected neighborhood friendships and finding your own inner hero. Her latest book, a historical middle grade novel called We Dream of Space, won a Newbery honor this year. It includes the kind of poignant friendship and family stories we expect from Erin, but this time, it's set in 1986, in the weeks leading up to the Challenger disaster. And coming later in May of this year is Maybe Maybe Marisol Rainey. It's clear my professor has been very, very busy in her pandemic life! I was thrilled to have the chance to interview her with the Inside the Kidlit Studio questions.
1. What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Surviving a deeply troubled childhood and adolescence to become a healthy and happy
adult. Not only did I survive, but I get to write books, which is all I ever wanted to do.
2. What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Freshly fallen snow, a book I can’t put down, and my dogs snuggled close.
3. What is your most treasured possession?
I still have many of the books and stories I wrote when I was a kid. Those are my most
4. When and where were you the happiest?
Honestly, I’m happy any time I’m in a hammock. Seriously. I can’t remember ever being
unhappy in a hammock. I once went to Belize and swung in a hammock for hours with
a cocktail and it was amazing. (I had sun poisoning afterward, but it was totally worth
it.) I’ve swung on hammocks near Louisiana bayous. I’ve swung on hammocks in
backyards of friends’ houses. I’ve swung on hammocks in the woods of Vermont. I’ve
swung on hammocks in Costa Rica. I’ve swung on hammocks outside big-box
department stores. And guess what? I was happy every single time. I’ve even had fun
falling out of hammocks.
I became a homeowner for the first time in 2019. One of the first things we did was
build a deck. Then I immediately bought a hammock. I cannot stress how much I love
being in my hammock when the weather is just-right.
I don’t think I’ve ever used the word “hammock” so often in such a small amount of
time, but what can I say? I love hammocks.
5. What is it that you most dislike?
Snobbery and pretension.
6. What is your greatest extravagance?
Massages. I love getting professional massages.
7. Which talent would you most like to have?
I’d love to be able to sing, because you can do it anywhere, at any time. I mean,
theoretically, I can sing any time with the voice I have now. But trust me—no one wants
to hear it. I’d love to have the voice of Karen Carpenter. No one would ever be able to
shut me up. I’d sing everything. Giving my order at McDonald’s? Yep. Speaking in front
of an assembly? Yep. Answering the phone? Yep.
8. Where would you like to live?
My daughter lives in Burlington, Vermont. Burlington is a great city, and Vermont is
gorgeous. I could live there.
9. What do you most value in your friends?
Sense of humor.
10. Who is your favorite hero/heroine of fiction?
Bronze and Sunflower, from the novel Bronze and Sunflower, written by Cao Wenxuan
and translated by Helen Wang.
11. Which living person do you most admire?
12. What do you consider the most overrated virtue?
13. If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
I’d like to be taller. I’m 5’1. If I was a few inches taller, it’d be easier to find clothes.
Pants are usually too long or too short. Dresses that are meant to be knee-length fall to
my calves. And I can’t reach higher shelves at the grocery store.
14. What is your favorite and least favorite word?
I love the word “peculiar.” And I really don’t like the word “pedagogy.” It sounds made
up. Then again, I guess all words are sort-of made-up, aren’t they? Hm.
15. What is your perfect environment for creative work?
When I’m writing, I need quiet. Sometimes I listen to classical music, but that’s as
much noise as I can handle. When I’m drawing, it’s a different story. I can draw while
having a conversation, watching Star Trek reruns, sitting on an airplane, wherever.
16. What’s the weirdest thing about you that you’re willing to share?
Just about every inanimate mechanical object in my life has its own name. My car is
Polly. My laptop is Judi. My headphones, Sylvia. IPad, Ignatious. My computer is called
Dr. Theopolis and my phone is Agnes. My teakettle is named Owly. When I had a full-
time corporate job, I named the coffee maker in the breakroom. He was Curtis. (God
bless you, Curtis.)
17. What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
18. What is the best book you’ve read in the past year? (Doesn’t have to be kidlit.)
Nonfiction: Leonardo Da Vinci by Walter Isaacson. Fiction: The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O.
by Neal Stephenson and Nicole Galland.
19. What is the favorite book of your childhood?
It depends on what era of childhood. When I was very little, I loved The Very Worried
Walrus from the Sweet Pickles collection. Later, I loved all of Judy Blume’s books. I also
loved Shel Silverstein’s Where the Sidewalk Ends and Sideways Stories from Wayside
School by Louis Sachar.
20. If heaven exists, what would you like to hear God/Goddess say when you arrive?
“Don’t worry about your daughter. We’ll keep her safe until her time comes. And when
that happens—a long, long time from now—you will be together again.” And then I
would like Her to say: “We have lots of dogs, including the ones you’ve lost.”
More about Erin:
Her website: http://www.erinentradakelly.com/
Another interview with Erin: https://middlegrademojo.com/2020/05/07/author-interview-with-erin-entrada-kelly/