Interview with Author Sylvia Mendoza
A commonality in any form of media is the desire to create a sense of immersion. Visual arts play with color, music blends sound and written media creates vision from words. Non-fiction demands this mastery of communication with far more skill and nuance than any other storyteller, including just enough fantastical language to draw a reader in. Nonfiction author and multicultural studies professor Sylvia Mendoza is one of many to master this subtle form of communication.
Fueled by a desire to draw people together, Mendoza’s passion for writing was fostered at a young age. As the daughter of a Navy man, she was moved from place to place in her youth. During these numerous moves, Mendoza was inspired to write by her mother. In time, this way of “[keeping] things familiar” would become a career. From a book report in the 5th grade to a Bachelor’s Degree in Print Journalism from the University of Southern California and a Masters in Digital Media from National University, Mendoza has found her calling.
Answering this built-in compulsive passion, she penned numerous fiction novels and nonfiction books. Beginning first with romance novels and transitioning into nonfiction in time, her desire to chronicle the deeds of prominent Latinas would become an award-winning narrative: The Book of Latina Women: 150 Vidas of Passion, Strength, and Success. Originally an idea from Simon and Schuster editor Marsela Landres, The Book of Latina Women started with nearly 100 entries specifically depicting successful Latinas and their accomplishments. The anthology recently won at the International Latino Book Awards for “Best Women’s Issues.”
The book serves a greater purpose by promoting women of color with the belief that everyone has a purpose and a story to tell. One such story is that of Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. Inspired by Sotomayor’s life journey, Mendoza authored a new children’s book about her, titled Sonia Sotomayor: A Biography. Having studied the Supreme Court Justice for a year, Mendoza expressed admiration of Justice Sotomayor’s authority as she entered a room to give a speech. Says Mendoza, “…everyone quieted down, backs straightened up… it’s like we didn’t want to miss a word, a gesture…” The biography serves as the spearhead of the new Living History series from Zest Books.
When asked about her target audience, Mendoza mentioned a surprising turnout of male support for the books, despite her intended demographic being fellow Latinas and other women of color. Regarding how both men and women could aid each other, Mendoza suggests that men and women need to listen to each other. She believes leaders need to find a balance of kindness and a “go get ‘em attitude”—a balance between the stereotypically “hot-blooded” and “warm-hearted” may be best reached by communicating with and listening to one another.
How then, does Mendoza connect to her audience? How does someone create art with non-fiction? While the particulars vary between genres and readership, her answer is surprisingly simple. “Pay attention to the details and think of the reader. They aren’t there with you when you’re talking about a person or an event. Give a sense of time and place, and really get [your readers] into the setting.” Mendoza cites the works of Eli Sanders for inspiration, specifically the 2012 Pulitzer Prize winning The Bravest Woman in Seattle, which she felt was a prime example of artistic non-fiction.
Mendoza’s next work will add a new addition to the Living History biographical children’s series on renowned astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson. The intellectual heavyweight will pose a challenge to portray to children, but Mendoza looks forward to researching her subject. According to Mendoza, “Half the fun of writing nonfiction is learning new things and becoming an expert on them yourself.”
For more information on Sylvia Mendoza’s accomplishments and latest works, visit sylvia-mendoza.com.