Influencer: Meet Anika Denise

Barrington’s own phenomenal author prepares to release her latest – a children’s book on Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

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This month your latest book Phenomenal AOC: The Roots and Rise of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez will be released. Are there any special events planned with AOC for the book launch or tour?

Yes! The official launch will be hosted on September 10 by The Bronx is Reading, a nonprofit organization curating community literary events, book clubs, and festivals throughout the Bronx. Locally, I’ll be at Barrington Books for a hometown launch on September 17.

 

You and your husband are among a cadre of children’s book author and illustrator all-stars living in Barrington. How did this sleepy community become such a hub of children’s literature talent?

I think our close proximity to the Rhode Island School of Design, which has a renowned children’s illustration program, has to be a factor. Beyond that, many of us are essentially freelance artists and writers, and while Barrington might not immediately leap to mind as a mecca for the self-employed, it has great public schools, a charming town beach, and easy access to anywhere in the state and beyond. Plus kid-lit folks tend to share resources and chat with one another. We ended up in Barrington after our friend Mary Jane Begin (author and illustrator of Ping Meets Pang) moved here with her young family. As a city kid for most of my life, Barrington is the first place I’ve lived that doesn’t have sidewalks! But it has a beautiful sparkling bay at the end of our street.

 

How did A Girl Named Rosita: The Story of Rita Moreno: Actor, Singer, Dancer, Trailblazer! come to be? Did you get to meet Ms. Moreno? Was it life-changing?

I did meet Ms. Moreno, but interestingly, it was 10 years before I had the idea to write the book. I was visiting my aunt’s house in upstate New York the same week Rita was honorary chair of the New York City Ballet’s summer gala. A friend of our family worked for the venue hosting the gala and asked my aunt – who happened to have access to a boat and a stunning lake view – to take Rita and her husband for a boat tour of the area. Since it was impromptu, I was entirely unprepared to meet one of my childhood idols while swimming off the dock with my kids. I remember shaking hands and blurting out an awkward, “I’m such a big fan, and so is my dad! We’re Puerto Rican!” Rita was kind and gracious, of course, but I did look back and wish I’d been more eloquent. Years later, when I pitched my publisher the idea of a picture book biography about her, I told them that story, and how I’d put into the book all the things I didn’t have the presence of mind to say in that starstruck moment. The truth is, Rita changed my life long before that day, by showing up proudly and authentically at a time when Latinos in Hollywood were mostly absent or misrepresented.

 

What are some of your favorite East Bay destinations and why? 

Any given weekend, you are going to find me browsing (and my teenagers working) at Inkfish Books in Warren, and at Barrington Books. Inkfish is a true small-town gem with a beautifully curated book selection and artisanal locally made gifts. Barrington Books has everything – books, toys, gifts, and even vinyl. Our favorite farm-to-table eatery (hands-down) is Bywater in Warren. Visit their bakery window for delicious coffee and pastries in the morning and then loop back later for fresh oysters and tasty seasonal dishes on their lovely outdoor patio. One of our favorite hikes is the gorgeous Sachuest Point National Wildlife Refuge in Middletown, a 2.4-mile oceanside nature trail where you can glimpse seals warming themselves on the rocks as waves crash and retreat in the distance.

 

You are known for school visits – both virtual and in person. What is your favorite thing about talking with students and what do you hope they take away from your visit most?

My favorite part about school visits and talking to students is when we get to create space together for creative writing, creative thinking, and whatever whacky fabulous idea they have in their brilliant little heads. One thing I often hear from teachers is that they don’t always have enough time in their schedules for open-ended creative writing. When I’m able to do a workshop that encourages students to honor and follow their curiosity, embrace imperfection, and see where it leads them, I’m always impressed and delighted by what comes up for them. I also love when I’m standing in front of a room of kids who look, sound, and have families like mine – and see themselves reflected back. What I most hope they take away from my visit is a sense that their ideas and voices are worthy. That they matter.

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