14-year-old partners with local poet to publish ‘South Valley’ book series

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A South Valley teen has teamed up with a New Mexican poet and filmmaker to encourage local kids to read by giving them stories they can relate to.

Fourteen-year-old Hawthorn Bolger-Witherspoon partnered with Jimmy Santiago Baca to create an illustrated series of short stories called South Valley.

The book series is based on Baca’s poetry and several local artists have contributed. Each story targets different issues, like immigration, domestic violence and drug abuse. 

The eighth-grader’s story is centered around a gang member who turns his life around. Hawthorn said she was even able to use a family friend as inspiration for the book’s artwork. 

“He actually works at a school here in Albuquerque and he’s a former gang member so it was kind of perfect because it was centered around the same story of him,” she said. 

She said she photographed him, then manipulated the images to look like drawings. Hawthorn hopes the collaboration will inspire kids to read and create positive influences for kids growing up in the South Valley. 

“It’s to let those kinds of people see themselves in books and let them hear stories about people like them because there isn’t a lot of representation for black and brown people especially for youth,” she said. 

Baca’s non-profit publishing company, Cedar Tree Poetic, will publish the book. there are limited quantities available on his website. 

Along with being a published author, two of Hawthorn’s photographs of the South Valley will be used in a short educational film for the Smithsonian in Washington D.C.

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