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Ellen Hopkins: ‘Experiment with all types of poetry’

Happy National Poetry Month! All throughout April, we will interview poets about working in this digital age. Recently, we spoke with New York Times bestselling author Ellen Hopkins.

Hopkins (pictured, via) has been writing poetry throughout her entire life. She first established her professional writing career by penning nonfiction children’s books.

After Simon & Schuster Children’s Books published Crank in 2004, she became well-known for writing novels in verse. Many of her hit titles focus on dark topics including addiction, mental illness, and prostitution. Check out the highlights from our interview below…

Q: How did you publish your first book?
A: If you mean my first novel, CRANK (I published 20 nonfiction books for young readers before that), I went to a writers conference and sat down with an editor from Simon & Schuster for a manuscript critique. I showed her a picture book, in verse, which she loved. However, she didn’t publish picture books and asked if I had anything else. I had ten pages of CRANK with me (about all I’d written at that point). She asked me to send it to her when it was finished. Two months later, I had 75 pages written and asked if she’d like an exclusive first look. She said yes, and within a couple of weeks I had a contract to finish the book.

Q: Has the Internet changed the way you interact with readers?
A: CRANK published in 2004. At the time, MySpace was pretty much the only social networking platform, but I immediately saw a value in utilizing it as a way to connect with readers. So I was fairly early into the game, and have always considered it extremely important to “talk” to my readers via social networking platforms and email. They appreciate my responsiveness to them.

Q: Any advice for reading poetry out loud?
A: Lots of practice. The more you read a poem, the more familiar you become with places you’re likely to trip over, especially as concerns assonance and alliteration. Those important devices can be difficult to read well.

Q: What advice can you share for aspiring poets?
A: It’s important to experiment with all types of poetry. Formal poetry helps you learn the rules so then you can learn how to break them! Lyric poetry teaches the beauty of pure language, while narrative allows you to storytell. Mostly, while I love rhyme and use interior rhyme often, end rhyme (unless it’s done very well) can be distracting and forces artificial sentence structure. Too many new poets rely on rhyme, and the heart and soul of their poetry can get lost. Rely on imagery and instead.

Q: What’s next for you?
A: I’m currently writing my 2014 YA verse novel, RUMBLE. After that, I’ll move straight into my 2015 adult novel, TANGLED. Plus, I’m adapting CRANK to the stage. I’ve also founded a nonprofit, Ventana Sierra, to help youth-in-need into safe housing and working toward career goals through higher education, mentorship and the arts. As a fundraiser, I’m organizing a June writers conference. All proceeds benefit the program. Would love to see you there! www.ventanasierra.org

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