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School: College of the Pacific

Major: English

Class Year: 1996

Occupation: Author of books for children and young adults, teaches creative writing at NYU. First Latino author to receive the prestigious Newbery Medal for children's literature (2016), National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) National Intellectual Freedom Award (2016).

City: Brooklyn, NY

Find out more:

Superman: Dawn Breaker, DC Icons Series (2019)
Carmela Full of Wishes (2018) - Publishers Weekly Best Book 2018
Love (2018)
Miguel and the Grand Harmony (2017)  - 
Original story based on the Disney/Pixar film "Coco"
The Hunted (2015)
Last Stop on Market Street (2015) - 2016 Newbery Award
Eternity: Infinity Ring Series Book 8 (2014)
The Living (2013)
Curse of the Ancients: Infinity Ring Series Book 4 (2013)
I Will Save You (2010)
A Nation's Hope: The Story of Boxing Legend Joe Louis (2010) - Best Book 2011 by School Library Journal and Booklist Editor's Choice, New York Times Best Illustrated Books 2011
We Were Here (2009) - Finalist for the 2011 Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award
Mexican White Boy (2008) - ALA-YALSA Best Books for Young Adults (Top Ten Pick), a 2009 Notable Book for a Global Society, a Junior Library Guild Selection, listed on the 2008 Bulletin for the Center for Children's Books Blue Ribbon List 
Ball Don't Lie (2005)

Matt speaks with a student following his lecture in November 2014. He also spoke in a creative writing class and to students at Stagg High School during his visit to Stockton.
Matt de la Pena and his father
Matt's father, whose own path to literacy was influenced by Matt's education, also spoke during the lecture.
Matt de la Pena and men's basketball team
A former Pacific basketball player, Matt enjoyed hangin' out with the men's basketball team on his recent campus visit.
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University of the Pacific
3601 Pacific Avenue
Stockton, California 95211

Matt de la Peña -- Reluctant reader to bestselling author

Matt de la Peña '96
“I entered Pacific as a basketball player, but I left as a scholar and a writer. And this transformation was the direct result of the professors I worked with.” - Matt de la Peña '96

Matt de la Peña, the author of critically acclaimed young adult novels and picture books, didn't grow up liking to read. In fact — and he's not proud of this — he didn't read a novel all the way through until after high school. Yet it would be a book — one given to him by a Pacific professor — that would change his life.

In an essay for National Public Radio's Code Switch, de la Peña talked about the day when former Pacific English professor Heather Mayne stopped him near the old bookstore his sophomore year — him, a basketball player who had been more interested in playing ball and hanging out than having anything to do with books and words. De la Peña recounts their conversation in this excerpt from the essay "Sometimes the 'Tough Teen' is Quietly Writing Stories":

"I was re-reading this last night," she said, holding out a book for me, "and I thought of you."

"Me?" I took the book and studied the cover.

"You." She made me promise to read it before I graduated. "And when you finish," she said, "come talk to me. That's all I ask. Deal?"

That gave me 2 1/2 years. "Deal," I told her.

I took the book with me on our next basketball road trip, to New Mexico State. The night before the game I cracked it open and read the first 10 or 15 pages. "Why'd she give me this book?" I wondered. It wasn't any good. This was usually when I'd toss a book aside, telling myself it just wasn't my thing. But that wasn't an option in this case. I needed to find out why my professor had connected me to this one specific book.

By Page 50 or so, I started caring about the character. She had a really tough life, far tougher than anything I'd experienced, and I tried to put myself in her shoes. The broken English which seemed awkward at first, became poetic. I read a third of the novel that night and went to sleep.

After our game the next day, which we won on a buzzer-beater, I hustled back to my hotel room to continue reading my book. I finished at four in the morning.

The book I read that night was Alice Walker's The Color Purple.

My professor said something I will never forget when I went and talked to her the following week. "Even in the harshest and ugliest of circumstances, she explained, there's still hope." That's what she loved most about The Color Purple.

It's what I loved most, too, I decided.

That hope.

De la Peña, born in a rough Mexican neighborhood in National City near San Diego, never thought he could be an actual writer. Though he had notebooks full of spoken-word style poetry, he never showed anyone.

But once he got to Pacific, he said he started to believe.

There was Religious Studies Professor, Larry Meredith, whose class amazed him. He hung on the now-retired professor's every word. Poetry professor Gil Schedler, also now retired, was the first person who ever said his poetry was good. Because of the professor's reinforcement, in his junior year de la Peña submitted his work for the Hansen Award, Pacific's creative writing award.

"And I won. (English professor) Camille Norton introduced me at the banquet, and she said such incredibly nice things about my work that I was speechless," he remembers now.

English professor Heather Mayne's take-away from The Color Purple still sticks with him today.

"I always go back to my professor's line about The Color Purple. Even in the harshest and ugliest of circumstances, there's still hope," he said in his NPR essay.

De la Peña is the New York Times bestselling, Newbery Medal-winning author of six young adult novels (including Mexican WhiteBoyWe Were Here and The Living) and four picture books (including the award-winning A Nations Hope and Last Stop on Market Street.) Last Stop on Market Street was featured on NPR's Morning Edition and was ranked No. 7 on The New York Times Bestsellers - Children's Picture Books list for the week of March 1, 2015. It won the 2016 Newbery Award, the top U.S. prize in children's literature. De la Peña is the first Hispanic author to be awarded the Newbery Medal. 

De la Peña's book Miguel and the Grand Harmony was released by Disney in both English and Spanish in 2017. The book features a beautiful original story based on the characters of the Disney/Pixar film "Coco," as well as vibrant stylized artwork by Ana Ramirez. As of Jan. 30, 2018, his latest children's book, Love, released in early January, was No. 1 on the New York Times bestseller list after only two weeks on the list.

In 2012, his acclaimed novel Mexican WhiteBoy was banned from the Tucson, Arizona, schools as a result of the termination of the Mexican American Studies programs. Scheduled to speak to a group of high school students in Tucson shortly after, Matt donated his speaking fee to buy copies of Mexican WhiteBoy, which he gave to the students. "I want to give back what was taken away," noted de la Peña.

In August 2016, the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) announced De la Peña as the recipient of the NCTE National Intellectual Freedom Award for de la Peña's efforts to fight censorship through both his words and his actions.

VIDEO: Hear Matt's Newbery Award speech

De la Pena will return to his alma mater in on May 11, 2019, as the keynote speaker for the university's Commencement celebration.