New Book Named a Finalist in the Texas Institute of Letters Award

HOUSTON, TX—The Texas Institute of Letters (TIL) announced Jasminne Mendez’s new young adult memoir, Islands Apart: Becoming Dominican American, is a finalist for its 2023 Jean Flynn Award for Best Young Adult Book.

Founded in 1936, The Texas Institute of Letters is a nonprofit honor society which celebrates Texas literature and recognizes distinctive literary achievement. Each year, the organization recognizes the best of Texas writing in a variety of genres including fiction, nonfiction, poetry, design, short form and scholarly writing.

In Islands Apart, Mendez writes about her experiences growing up Afro Latina in the Deep South and feeling torn between her Dominican, Spanish-speaking culture at home and the American, English-speaking one around her. She didn’t speak English when she started kindergarten, and her young, white teacher thought the girl was deaf because in Louisiana, you were either black or white. The teacher didn’t know that a black girl could be a Spanish speaker. Mendez learned early on that learning to read and write English well was the road to acceptance. Mendez shares typical childhood experiences such as having an imaginary friend, boys and puberty, but she also exposes the anti-black racism within her own family and the conflict created by her family’s conservative traditions. “I wanted us to find some common ground,” she writes about her parents, “but it seemed like we were from two different worlds, and our islands kept drifting farther and farther apart.”

According to Kirkus Reviews, Mendez’s “strong” collection of intimate essays is “at times poignant and at others heartbreaking,” and “is sure to empower those who share the pressures of forced assimilation.”

The Rumpus praised Mendez’s memoir for adults, Night-Blooming Jasmin(n)e: Personal Essays and Poetry: “Méndez illustrates through personal experience the haunting consequences of a divide between spirit and body. She gestures toward the necessity of resilience for people of color. And perhaps most important to the book’s development, Méndez simultaneously performs and subverts labeling, questioning its influence on identity.”

JASMINNE MENDEZ is a Dominican-American poet, playwright and award-winning writer. She is the author of a memoir, Night-Blooming Jasmin(n)e: Personal Essays and Poetry (Arte Público, 2018), and a bilingual picture book, Josefina’s Habichuelas / Las habichuelas de Josefina (Piñata Books, 2021). She lives and works in Houston, Texas.

Arte Público Press is the nation’s largest and most established publisher of contemporary and recovered literature by US Hispanic authors. Its imprint for children and young adults, Piñata Books, is dedicated to the authentic portrayal of the themes, languages, characters and customs of Hispanic culture in the United States. Books published under the imprint serve as a bridge from home to school to support family literacy and elementary school education. Based at the University of Houston, Arte Público Press, Piñata Books and the Recovering the US Hispanic Literary Heritage project provide the most widely recognized and extensive showcase for Latino literary arts and creativity.  For more information, please visit

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