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April 12, 2017

Badass Ladies You Should Know: Lilliam Rivera

Kate Hart
Lilliam Rivera in jeans and black leather jacket, standing before a graffiti mural wall
Sometimes these intros are impossible to write. All I really want to say is, You know who kicks ass? Lilliam Rivera, that's who. From the Pushcart Prize and the Clarion Writing Workshop, to readings at PEN Center USA, interviews with MTV, articles for Cosmo and the LA Times, and personal essays on Lenny Letter, Lilliam's already well-established writing career is now paired with the debut of her YA novel The Education of Margot Sanchez -- and she is killing it. What's more, she is a delight in person, and I can't wait to see her again later this month at YALLWEST in Santa Monica. 

Be sure to enter the giveaway for a copy of her book!


cover of THE EDUCATION OF MARGOT SANCHEZKate: Describe your career(s) and/or current projects. What path(s) and passions led you there?

Lilliam: The Education of Margot Sanchez is my first young adult novel published on February 2017 by Simon & Schuster. I also write short stories that have been published in literary and speculative literature magazines. My background is in entertainment journalism where I’ve worked on staff as an editor and writer for various publications including Latina magazine and E! Entertainment. Now I currently freelance writing copy for fashion brands.

Kate: Do you have any (other) creative outlets? How do they influence/affect your main work (if at all)?

Lilliam: As I mentioned above, I’ve written features and cover stories for magazines. Here are just a couple of my favorite stories: America Ferrera, Aubrey Plaza, Why Do Latinas Have The Highest Suicide Rate in America?, and an interview with Sofia Samatar.

I’ve also hosted a radio show called Literary Soundtrack where I interviewed authors of color like Laila Lalaimi, Victor LaValle, and Meg Medina, to name a few. For me, writing is just perfecting that muscle so writing for other outlets helps me with my fiction. You also don’t know where you will find inspiration.

Kate: What's your biggest challenge?

Lilliam: My biggest challenge is ignoring the voices that try to convince me that I’m a fraud. Even with a book published and the ability to finish a second novel, I still get caught up in the swirls of doubt. My challenge is to focus on the work in front of me and to ignore what is going on with everyone else.

the crowd at Lilliam's release party for MARGOT SANCHEZKate: Tell us about a time that you bounced back from failure.

Lilliam: Before The Education of Margot Sanchez, I wrote my first young adult novel. It was about Latina vampires set in Los Angeles. I started to submit the novel to agents in the hope of representation. It was right at the time when the Twilight movie came out and every young adult novel was about vampires. Anyway, I received a lot of rejections. It was a real test for me. I worked hard finishing that novel and I learned so much from that experience. I was devastated but I guess I knew deep down that no matter the amount of rejections I knew I had a voice that deserved to be heard. Somehow I managed to keep moving forward.

Kate: What's the best compliment you've ever gotten? 

Lilliam: I’ve had the best readers reach out to me and tell me how much they’ve enjoyed reading Margot Sanchez. They’ve expressed how much they can relate to the character. Some have even sent me gifts. I’m always so happy when someone takes to time to let me know that something I wrote moved them in some way. That is a huge deal and I don’t take those things lightly.

Kate: Did you have any defining moments that galvanized your understanding of and/or commitment to feminism? How does it inform/inspire your work?

Lilliam: I didn’t grow up with the word “feminist.” The word I did grow up with is activist or revolutionary. My family instilled in us that we had to fight against the injustices in this world and that there are many out there who refuse to acknowledge Latinx as equal. The first defining moment I came to understand this was when my father explained to me how Puerto Rico, the island he grew up in, is neither a state of the U.S. or an independent island but a commonwealth. If you follow the history of the Island, from when the Spaniards “discovered” it to its current state, you would understand how destructive and racist the colonial mentality is.

Lightning round: Tell us what you’re…    

reading: I’m currently reading Among Strange Victims, a funny novella by emerging Mexican author Daniel Saldaña Paris.

watching: I’m watching Into the Badlands. Karate, bad ass girl fighting. Need I say more?

listening to: On repeat, “Humble” by Kendrick Lamarr.

eating: Whatever is in the house.

doing: In front of my laptop, always typing.

wearing: I’m wearing a concert t-shirt from Hurray for the Riff Raff.

wishing for: The list is very long.

wanting: To see the Game of Thrones new season already! July can’t come quick enough.

Kate: Who are some other badass ladies we need to know & why?

Lilliam: Alynda Segarra is a Puerto Rican folk singer from New York. I’m obsessed with her music. I love how vocal she is in her music, using her platform to make a statement. Her latest album “The Navigator” is all about gentrification and safe spaces.

If you don’t know who Congresswoman Maxine Waters is by now, you seriously need to check yourself. Congresswoman Waters is the only representative who is vehemently against the current administration. She is not afraid.

Julia de Burgos is a Puerto Rican poet who wrote such powerful lines such as “Don’t let the hand you hold, hold you down.” Her work played such an important role in my young adult novel.

Kate and Lilliam (2nd and 3rd) at the North Texas Teen Book Fair with fellow debut authors Natalie C Anderson, Angie Thomas, and Ibi ZoboiKate: What are the best ways to support other women?

Lilliam: The best way to support other women is to have your list ready. What I mean by list is I mean that if someone asks me ‘Do you know of a good person for…’ I will have my list of women to recommend. It is healthy to be competitive but I believe there is more than enough room for everyone so I’m always willing to share my resources. Be supportive. Be vocal.

Kate: What is your advice to aspiring badasses?

Lilliam: Find a path that works for you. You will end up finding others on that journey that will help and that you in turn will help.

US only


badass ladies you should know logo
Lilliam Rivera is an award-winning writer and author of The Education of Margot Sanchez, a contemporary young adult novel available now from Simon & Schuster. Recently named a "2017 Face to Watch" by the Los Angeles Times, Lilliam's work has appeared in Tin House, Los Angeles Times, and Latina, to name a few. She lives in Los Angeles with her family where she’s completing her second novel.

website  //  twitter  //  instagram  //  goodreads

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