Torrey Maldonado is the author of the critically acclaimed novels Tight and Secret Saturdays. He is a teacher in Brooklyn, New York, where he was born and raised. His books reflect his students’ and his experiences.
On September 17, he will be speaking at House of SpeakEasy’s Seriously Entertaining show, No Sleep Till, alongside William Dalrymple, Nicole Dennis-Benn, and Helen Phillips.
What is your earliest memory involving reading or writing?
Imagine me as a little Afro’d boy chef. Picture me as that boy tasting food then thinking, “This is good. Let me try to make it on my own” or “This could taste better if . . .” Now picture me as a little boy sampling comic books and early childhood books that way. I read as if I were food-tasting. Then I’d go write or draw thinking, “That comic or story was good. Let me see if I can redo it with my spin on it” or “Maybe if that story looked like this, then it might be better . . .” Where’d that habit come from? My mom. With one tiny question, she conditioned me to get into a big habit with reading and writing. After I read, she’d ask, “How could it have been better?” My earliest memories of writing are my current habits as a teacher and writer: I’m constantly trying to recreate and plate what’s great or whipping up something new for young readers to savor and devour.
What is your favorite line from your current work?
Asking an author to choose a favorite line from their current work is like asking a parent to pick their favorite child. It’s tough so I asked for help on this. A fellow author as well as one of the designers of the cover of my book Tight chose the same line. In my book designer’s words, “The whole bodega kid-embarrassment thing was hilarious”. Their favorite line from Tight is, “I hope there no note from the bodega’s owner. Ugh! There’s a note for him.”
What is your favorite first line of a novel?
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times . . .”
What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
A boss at a newspaper company personally sat me down and gave me a piece of writing advi—I’m joking. I saw it in the last fifteen minutes of season two of “Daredevil” on Netflix. A boss at a newspaper company on the “Daredevil” Netflix show gave great advice to journalist who had writer’s block. I felt like that boss was talking to me though so I follow it. The advice? “Write something only you can write: the truth, your truth and hold no punches back.”
What writer past or present do you wish you could eat dinner with?
My grandmother from my mother’s side traveled from the island of Puerto Rico to New York City with her dream of becoming a writer. She managed to master enough English to publish a paragraph in the Daily News before she died. She passed her love of writing onto my mother who passed it onto me. In the fourth and fifth grades, my mom needed to work late so my grandma agreed to watch me after school. I spent hours drawing pictures for my grandma. When she died, I went into a cocoon and stopped trying to capture our world with images because I drew for her. Then, in the seventh grade, a teacher assigned a really engaging writing assignment and I came out of my cocoon and started capturing the world with the written word. If I ate dinner with grandma, I think she’d be proud of her literary “butterfly effect” on me.
What writer do you wish you could share with the world?
My mom is a writer who I wish I could share with our world. She filled spiral notebooks with her writing and only shared it with me. Then she locked it in a file cabinet. She encouraged my writing since I was in diapers. First it was her read-alouds of her writing. She’d open her spiral notebook and read a poem she had written, or her quotes about human behavior.
What are you reading right now?
I was a reluctant reader boy and I’m a reluctant reader adult. That doesn’t mean that I don’t enjoy reading—it means I enjoy reading the best books. As an author I sometimes get to moderate panels and I’m lucky because I get to moderate some of the best authors. Right now, I’m reading a stack of books for a middle grade panel that I’ll moderate on September 21st at the Brooklyn Book Festival at 12 noon.
What fictional character do you most closely identify with?
Miles Morales from Into the Spider-verse is the fictional character that I most closely identify with. He mirrors the racial mix of my upbringing and home, Black and Afro-Puerto Rican.
If you could live inside a fictional world, which one would you choose?
If could live in a fictional world, I’d choose a world where each get a superpower. When I author-visit schools or do book-talks for my novel Tight (which is about a sixth grade comic-loving Brooklyn boy) I ask this question—“Who wishes they had a superpower?”. Nearly every kid’s and every adult’s hand goes up. Living in that world of superpowered people, I’ll have super speed like the Flash. I juggle teaching and writing, and with the Flash’s speed I’d write all the stories I have in my head.
Are there any quotes you use to inspire you?
“People need to know how much you care before they care about how much you know.”
“Be the change you want to see.”
“If it’s inaccessible to the poor, it’s neither revolutionary or radical.”
I could keep going yet it might sound like a one man recreation of “We Are The World”.