Marie Marquardt is a sociologist, ethnographer and author of young adult fiction. Invited by the Latin American Student Organization, Marquardt spoke at the University of North Georgia on Wednesday, Nov. 8, about her work, experiences and, she said, the “unusual path that led me to start writing young adult fiction books.”
Marquardt attended graduate school at Emory University, where she researched the role of immigrants in America. After graduation, she continued her work in ethnography, and surrounded herself with undocumented immigrant women ― mainly from Mexico ― who had no way to earn citizenship. As she immersed herself in these people’s lives, she developed lasting friendships with them. It was her many treasured friendships with undocumented immigrants that became Marquardt’s initial influence for writing.
Marquardt took great interest in spreading awareness about the immigration issues affecting the people she cared so much about. The first book she contributed to, “Living Illegal,” was filled with information and statistics about undocumented immigrants. “We don’t have effective reform because we don’t have the information,” Marquardt said.
However, Marquardt soon realized the way to get people to care about her cause was not by stuffing them full of information and statistics. Instead, she said, appealing to people’s hearts rather than their minds is what gets them to care. So, Marquardt stopped with the data dumps and wrote her first novel, “Dream Things True,” a work inspired by the stories of the undocumented immigrants she had come to know and love.
“Dream Things True” is a story about star-crossed lovers set in a town inspired by North Georgia. However, Marquardt’s main influence for her characters came from her experiences helping at El Refugio, which means “the refuge.” El Refugio is a shelter in Lumpkin County that offers support to families of undocumented immigrants who are detained, and will most likely be deported. Marquardt learned that in these devastating situations, the primary breadwinners are oftentimes the ones detained, which puts the whole family in a desperate situation. “So much of what I’ve learned of the power of love I’ve learned through these families,” she said. “Their resilience is astounding.”
Marquardt’s second novel, “The Radius of Us,” was inspired by several young men she met through volunteering for Immigration Customs Enforcement at the Stewart Detention Center in Stewart County.
Marquardt explained that several of the men she visited at the Stewart Center came from Mexico, sometimes with younger siblings, in hopes of seeking refuge from the dangers faced in their home countries. Though these men passed through border patrol, they were greeted in America by being separated from their loved ones, shoved on a plane and brought to the Stewart Center where they were detained until their court date. These people are placed in a prison-like conditions having committed no crime and ― more often than not ― are sent back to their home countries only to be placed back in the same danger they originally sought refuge from. The story of the protagonist in the novel, “The Radius of Us,” mirrors stories of the men Marquardt met at the Stewart Detention Center. “My story is a tribute to the strength and character of those men,” Marquardt said.
Marquardt feels that we as a society need diverse books, and that we have a need for writers to write about these marginalized communities that are so often underrepresented. She sometimes still wonders how to act responsibly and ethically and how to use her stories for good. Yet, she feels she has two responsibilities: continuing to write the stories she knows and that compel her, and encouraging young people from marginalized groups to tell their stories. Her work was written in hopes that her readers would see these issues in a new light. “The stories I tell should matter to me and others living in America because we are all impacted by the broken system and we are all intertwined,” Marquardt said.
Marquardt has a third book coming out, titled “Flight Season,” which will be on sale in the new year starting Feb. 20. For more information on Marie Marquardt, visit her website or follow her on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.