Middle School, Journaling, and a Life in Poems: An Interview with Ellen Hagan

Ellen Hagan is so many things: Author. Poet. Performer. Educator. Self-proclaimed documentarian. She is also the author of RECKLESS, GLORIOUS, GIRL, a lovely, heartwarming middle grade novel in verse set in her home state of Kentucky. I raced through this book, drawn to the characters and story. Seventh grade, as Ellen and I discuss below, is such a strange and specific time, and Ellen brings those feelings and emotions to life so wonderfully. Here’s what she had to say when we chatted. 


JOY PREBLE: RECKLESS, GLORIOUS, GIRL is your first middle grade novel. So my first question is, what drew you to write about a girl navigating life and sense of self in seventh grade? It’s such a fraught time, isn't it? When my son was in seventh grade, our school district was very overcrowded and so they decided to house all the seventh graders in our area in one school. Just seventh grade. And I always thought, yikes! Anyway, why middle grade? Why Beatrice’s story? What pulled you back into that world?


Ellen Hagan: Yes, I agree, it is a tough age, but I have such heart for middle school. I carry who I was as a middle schooler with me always, and so there is a tenderness and love for that age group. I know how much they are carrying with them, how much they are growing, changing, and figuring out who they are and how to show up in the world. I always say that if you make it through middle school, you win! My hope is that young people see themselves in Beatrice and her struggle to stay true to who she is while also grappling with friendships, family and the ups and downs of seventh grade. I hope they will ask all the questions that will help them become their true and amazing selves. 



JP: That’s such a lovely answer. And speaking of lovely, your Kentucky setting in RECKLESS, GLORIOUS, GIRL is so wonderfully specific and helps define Beatrice in all these different ways, from sense of place to food (oh the food! I love that there’s so much food!). So what was it like for you, growing up in Kentucky and navigating your way through life? Your bio says that you and your family split your time between Kentucky and New York City. So I have to ask, are there similarities in these two places that inspire you and your art or only differences?


EH: Oh, I love that you loved the food! I hope everyone gets the chance to visit the Bluegrass and eat all of the delicious meals from the book. I love Kentucky and New York City so much and think of them both as home – both as places that have raised me. They share rich literary traditions, recipes handed down that span generations, traditions and cultures. Most of all, they share the same sense of community and belonging. There are such profound and lasting friendships that have come from both spaces – a sense of gathering and sharing. They are both full of open arms and stories that forever connect us. 


JP: I’d say that poetic response reminds me that you’re a poet, and a fine one! But given that you could tell Beatrice’s story in any medium, why verse? What are the challenges to writing a novel in verse?


EH: I think of myself as a poet and documentarian first. Since I was in the seventh grade I kept a journal and now have dozens of them that span my life from 13 until now (42) and those journals always carried poems. They have been a way to study and reflect on my own life, so when Beatrice and her story came to me I wanted there to be movement and rhythm – wanted her journey to be full of images and sensory details. Each poem feels like a thread stitching the moments and scenes from Beatrice’s memories and the life she is building around her. The poems feel like a home.  



JP: I love that you’ve been so faithful to journaling. You are also an educator and work with young writers. What is some of your favorite advice to aspiring writers? 


EH: Write! Don’t get caught up in the editor of your mind – the one that tells you your work is not good enough or not to write something. Just write. Get the words on the page. I am a big believer in journaling and love to record what is happening around me in lists or snippets of the day. It helps to get words on the page and not worry about how it sounds or get caught up in perfectionism. Just create. And also read! The more I read, the better my work becomes. Some of my favorite writers are: Renée Watson, Elizabeth Acevedo, and Thanhhà Lai. 



JP: Those are three of my favorites as well! Such brilliant writers. Finally, what’s coming next for you?


EH: I am so excited to be working on a new Young Adult novel in verse about 17- year- old Eliza Murphy, an environmental activist who is working with her community and friends to protect her coastal town. She is navigating the aftereffects of a hurricane that devastated their town while falling for a boy at the center of a redevelopment that could put their community in serious danger – again. It is a love story about the ocean and a small island community and figuring out what it means to stand up for what you believe in and what you love.  



JP: Thank you, Ellen, for taking the time to talk with us!


This interview has been edited for clarity.

Reckless, Glorious, Girl Cover Image
ISBN: 9781547604609
Availability: NOT ON OUR SHELVES. Usually Arrives in 4-7 Business Days
Published: Bloomsbury Children's Books - February 23rd, 2021

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