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Keeping the Path After Landing a Book Deal When Only 5 Of My People Live in the US by Ari Tison

Blog, today I am honored to have Ari Tison, author of the forthcoming novel Saints of the Household share her experiences on getting a book deal and what it means for her as a Bribri person. Enjoy!

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I often joke that I am one of five Bribris I know of living in the United States. Two of which are my father and brother. The third is my mentor. The fourth is in college on scholarship. And I am the fifth. When I say five Bribri people in the States, I am not lying. My father and aunt’s story of leaving the territory on student visas in the 1960s is literally a legend—this is just how few people leave.

As you could probably imagine, I was surprised when my debut YA novel SAINTS OF THE HOUSEHOLD (FSG 2023) about two Bribri American brothers navigating healing went to auction and then somehow landed a two-book deal for six figures when I simultaneously knew how incredibly small our Bribri community is in the States. 

This is not to say that I am ungrateful. I feel incredibly privileged. To be able to pay off some college loans, to be able to afford a trip to see my family and homelands again after not being able to afford to for the last several years. I even dream about buying land back with the next book—this all is a privilege. A dream come true. I sometimes have to snap my fingers to feel that this is all real. I am honored, as Joy Harjo emailed me back just yesterday, to be “keeping my path.”

But my goodness, we all know that money does not solve all the problems and it’s certainly not why I write. And it is not what we use to self-talk for fears. 

I cannot always put aside my fears of having such a wide difference between a home “own voices” audience of five and selling a book that I want to at least have a chance at earning out with. I sometimes wish I could fit in already with a booming industry of Indigenous Central Americans. But it’s not so. 

I can’t help but wonder, how will my publisher market my book? How can I earn out my advance? Will readers want to read my next book? I hope us five Bribris in the US will, but if my first book sells more than five copies, my audience would be primarily Sikua or non-Bribri people. 

On this path, I have no good answer. I wonder where people will shelve, what lists the book could potentially be on, which history month the book might show up, Black History Month, Indigenous Peoples’ Heritage Month, National Hispanic Heritage Month? I belong to all three. Poetry Month? Sure, why not? 

I do my best to give up control and remain thankful and honest. This blog post is me trying to do so. The Indigenous landscape is very complicated in the Central & South Americas. Many in the US don’t understand that these are colonized nations. Some have even told me they thought that all Indigenous peoples below the border had been killed. The Google definition of Native American doesn’t currently include Central and South America even though we are in the Americas as well. I often feel in limbo. Will my books feel as in the same limbo? Will they stand a gap, hold a place as a future sister to more books from Indigenous Central and South American YA authors? 

Again, no good answers here. I have hopes. But I am reminded of those who have stood their own gaps before, who have garnered space for others. In Bribri, the word story is siwa’ and is synonymous with wind, history, and knowledge. I find comfort in that our Indigenous stories are older than the United States, than the mapped borders. 

I take comfort in that I get to be a storyteller who gets to pass on stories to the next generation. I am simply stepping into the wind, and maybe some stories will take root in knowledge, some might take place in our tribe’s contemporary history, others might flow next to the voices of the ancestors who passed down our stories for generations in order for me to share them and pass them along. Knowing that this is what I want to do, perhaps even lets me know that I am in the right place as so many authors and poets and artists from this beautiful world are, keeping our paths. 

Keeping our paths.

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Ari Tison is a Bribri (Indigenous Costa Rican) American poet, essayist, educator, autoethnographer, and author of YA hybrid novel SAINTS OF THE HOUSEHOLD (2023) + Untitled YA (TBD) with FSG/BFYR. She is also forthcoming in a Latine YA anthology OUR SHADOWS HAVE CLAWS with Algonquin Young Readers (2022). Her poetry and essays have been published in Rock & SlingYellow MedicineThe Under Review and elsewhere. She was most recently in POETRY‘s first issue for young people. She has her MFAC from Hamline University and teaches creative writing at the Loft Literary Center and as an adjunct professor and lives in Saint Paul, Minnesota. 

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