Take Five With The King of Young Adult Urban Fiction – Paul Volponi
August 16th, 2010 by Liza Wiemer

YA Urban Fiction Novelist, Paul Volponi


Award-winning author, Paul Volponi=


Heart-stopping, powerful, exceptional, and true-to-life! These are just a words that describe the novels by The King of YA Urban Fiction, Paul Volponi.  Volponi’s YA novels are: Rikers High, Response, Hurricane Song, Rucker Park Setup, Rooftop, Black and White, Homestretch, The Hand You’re Dealt and in May, 2011 Crossing Lines described by Volponi as a YA novel “about a macho football player whose sister’s best friend decides he needs to wear lipstick and then a dress to school.”  What’s it like to walk in someone else’s shoes? Can’t wait to read Volponi’s characters’ perspectives and the lessons learned!  In 2012 The Final Four will be published.  It’s “about four players at the Final Four of the NCAA Basketball Tournament (a political and social look at that event and its effect on players’ lives.)”  The conclusion to Black and White will be published by Viking – pub. date to be announced.

I hope EVERYONE reads Volponi’s books, especially teens and educators, and our politicians could learn a few things from him too! He opens windows to society and urban youth that few have the guts to see, let alone write about.  I’m certain Volponi has shared only a small part of what he has seen and experienced through the years as a former teacher for incarcerated teens at Rikers and by teaching in a drug day-treatment center.

I personally have never met Volponi, but he doesn’t seem like the kind of guy who walks around seeing himself as a hero or even the type of guy who lives to be thanked or for that matter special or any different than the rest of us.  But based on everything I have read I am certain he has made a tremendous impact on young adults and helped quite a few on the sometimes perilous journey of growing up.  

Here’s what think. Volponi’s work as an author and teacher changes lives. He gives readers a gift and it’s up to us to decide what to do with it. Do we walk away, maybe tell others what powerful books he’s written, or do we do something in this world, big or small, to make it a little better for someone else? – Ultimately that’s what Volponi’s saying. Life can be really crappy (big time understatement) but what are we going to do to change it? What’s truly valuable to you?


I won’t forget these books and in honor of this interview I am offering readers the opportunity to enter to win one Volponi novel – your choice of one of the eight pictured below.

Easy to enter:  1.  Comment on this blog piece.  AND/OR  2.  Post it or RT on Twitter or Facebook (I do my best to keep track, but if you can let me know, it’s very helpful and a guarantee that you’ll be entered!)  AND/OR 3. Share which Volponi novel is most interesting to you and why.  Deadline for entry is 8:00 PM CST Tuesday, August 31, 2010

To learn more about Paul Volponi, his novels, and to read excerpts, please visit his website at:  http://www.paulvolponibooks.com/

Q & A:

1.  Q:  In all your books you do an excellent job portraying the complexity of adults.  They are users/abusers/bullies/exploiters, but also role models/leaders/mentors.  Ultimately, what do you hope young adults and adults will draw from these portrayals and why?

PV-     I write what I see in real life. I suppose the reader probably sees these characters in types, someone they can match up to in the world around them, inside of their own lives. I think it’s good practice for them to fit themselves into those situations in my novels, thinking what they would do, how they would act themselves—like a practice class in conflict resolution.

2.  Q.  I was struck by the observation that each one of your books highlights how one simple decision can greatly alter the life of not just the one making the choice, but those around him.  Often the young adult doesn’t recognize how his choice would lead to such a horrific path of destruction or in some cases a positive change.  How can other young adults learn from these situations and hopefully avoid the destructive ones all together?

PV-     Decisions are part of all of our lives. The characters show the impulsiveness of many of our teens—it has to happen today for me—right now. Probably a deep breath and a long look in many directions would serve for better decisions. But things happen fast on the streets. The stories are a reflection of that, and the pressure on our teens to succeed in some form—legally or illegally.

3.  Q. Your books reflect a clear and accurate picture of racial tensions and prejudices in real settings like Rikers, the Metrodome in New Orleans during Katrina, and in schools, which I believe will surprise many of your readers. Change is extremely slow and positive action is the key.  Politicians often fail.  So given this perspective, what would you like to see young adults and adults DO to improve this dire, dismal relationship among races.

PV-     I don’t have answers. I’m not that smart. I just try to hold up a mirror to the society that I see. Maybe one of the readers will succeed in finding answers for us all one day.

4.  Q.  Another observation is that your books clearly show that money and material things are nothing in comparison to the love, respect, support of family, but that our society places a greater value on the material than relationships.  What advice do you have to give young adults to keep the WANTS in perspective when they’re inundated daily with newest and greatest. 

PV-     Unfortunately, Nike does a better job motivating our kids than most school systems. It’s a hard shadow to shed. But I think teens do see the value of simple things (basically because they don’t have a lot of money and a good time to them can just be sitting on the stoop talking or hanging out in the park) The TV is just barking at them all of the time to say they can be something better, more stylish. I hate advertisers.

5.  Q.  Everyone faces difficult moments.  If you could give something – either an small object or a piece of paper with words written on it – for a young adult to carry around in his pocket or wallet and pull out when he doesn’t know what to do, what would it be or what would it say and why? 

PV-     Teens make great protagonists in novels because they act NOW, driven by passion. However, that’s often a problem in real life. I would send them out with a note in their pockets that says—If what you want to do or say is the right thing, it will be good tomorrow as well. So wait for tomorrow to do it or say it. —Of course, who calls timeout in life to read notes before acting?


Rikers High


Rucker Park Setup


Black and White




The Hand You're Dealt






Hurricane Song

8 Responses  
Sara Broers writes:
August 16th, 2010 at 3:41 pm

Another great giveaway! You keep ’em coming~ Looks like some good books as well!

Paul W. Hankins writes:
August 17th, 2010 at 3:31 pm

I think this is super. Would love to share the interview with my students if this is okay with you. Great job!

Liza Wiemer writes:
August 17th, 2010 at 7:45 pm

Yes! Absolutely share it with your students – I know that this would please Paul Volponi very much!

Betsy writes:
August 20th, 2010 at 7:32 am

Paul Volponi takes great risk by venturing out of the fantasy book arena (that teens crave) and into true urban life. Capturing society in a not always so pretty way stirs up great emotion along with personal reflection for the YA reader.

K.M. Weiland writes:
August 28th, 2010 at 11:07 am

Complex, complicated characters – nothing pulls me into a story and makes me remember it more. What Paul said about portraying people honestly is one of the most important parts of writing fiction (or creating any kind of art, for that matter). Honesty = truth. And truth will always connect with people, even as it will alienate others.

Shawnee writes:
August 28th, 2010 at 9:13 pm

Thanks to the Readathon I found out about this. I tweeted it:


Courtney writes:
August 30th, 2010 at 12:55 am

Great Giveaway! Thanks for the invite!

Sam Glaser writes:
August 30th, 2010 at 1:46 am

the best authors, poets, composers do their thing regardless of the glory. It seems that PV is one of those guys. His reward is in the expression, the expiation of the idea. Nothing like being in the flow!

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