White Space

By Jennifer De Leon

University of Massachusetts Press, 2021


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About the Book

Sometime in her twenties, Jennifer De Leon asked herself, “What would you do if you just gave yourself permission?” While her parents had fled Guatemala over three decades earlier when the country was in the grips of genocide and civil war, she hadn’t been back since she was a child. She gave herself permission to return—to relearn the Spanish that she had forgotten, unpack her family’s history, and begin to make her own way.

Alternately honest, funny, and visceral, this powerful collection follows De Leon as she comes of age as a Guatemalan-American woman and learns to navigate the space between two worlds. Never rich or white enough for her posh college, she finds herself equally adrift in her first weeks in her parents’ home country. During the years to follow, she would return to Guatemala again and again, meet ex-guerrillera and genocide survivors, get married in the old cobblestoned capital of Antigua, and teach her newborn son about his roots.


As the daughter of Guatemalan immigrants who fled their homeland amid genocide and civil war, De Leon contemplates not only what it means to be a Guatemalan-American woman, but to comprehend the struggles her parents endured—giving up their language, family, friends, and a world they once called home. “

—Debbie Hagan, Brevity, April 28, 2021


De Leon’s journey to reconcile her heritage with her present reality, and her struggle to fit in, is a familiar meta-narrative for any immigrant or child of immigrants. But what’s truly gripping about White Space for this reader is her lens on her parents’ presence in her life throughout the book, and the way it provides a sharp backdrop against which de Leon can tell us her own story of becoming.”

—Yi Shun Lai, Undomesticated, April 8, 2021


The title unifies the book as a powerful metaphor that captures the intersection of race and writing. Many of the essays describe De Leon’s struggles as a woman of color working in a field—creative writing—that is dominated by white people. The book is, in part, a journey toward claiming her right to take up space, whether it be space on a page, in the classroom, or on the street as a world traveler.”

—Rebecca Hussey, Foreword Reviews, March/April 2021


Toni Kirkpatrick Interviews Jennifer De Leon

Latinx in Publishing

Read Here

Praise for White Space

White Space documents a life in flux, a life in the throes of becoming, and we applaud its subversive, metaphoric depth. We were both struck by Jennifer De Leon’s lively writing and engaged consciousness. We see her as someone who might well join the ranks of our leading essayists, such as Roxane Gay, Samantha Irby, Michelle Orange; soon, we hope. She is well on her way.”

—Madeleine Blais and Kathy Roberts Forde,
Juniper Prize for Creative Nonfiction Judges


Jennifer De Leon represents the new generation and exciting voices of Latinx storytellers. White Space makes space for all of us: it’s the book we need to be reading now as we create a more united América, which includes north and south.”

—Julia Alvarez, author of Afterlife


De Leon trains her gaze on the gaps in our conversations and conscious thoughts; she writes the invisible into existence; the awkward, even painful silences into language, and in that rendering, creates a new space where what was felt, but unacknowledged can be discussed.”

—Grace Talusan, author of The Body Papers


De Leon is a sharp observer and storyteller, and her essays are devastating, hopeful, inquisitive, honest. What a joy to read!”

—Jaquira Díaz, author of Ordinary Girls


White Space is the book I have been waiting for—a moving dispatch on family, country and creativity from a daughter of the Central American diaspora.”

—Daisy Hernández, author of A Cup of Water Under My Bed


Jennifer De Leon takes the register of fierce familial love built and held onto upon the harsh ground of dislocation like nobody else can. This is a collection not only for her ancestors and children but ours.”

—Ru Freeman, author of A Disobedient Girl


For years I have been following Jenn De Leon’s career, reading her essays in journals like Ploughshares and Fourth Genre and I am always compelled to share them with friends because they are so insightful and powerful. As a daughter of immigrant parents, I feel seen by them.”

—Angie Cruz, author of Dominicana


De Leon writes with such sly power, rendering intimate family moments with humor and compassion, uncovering her identity in what was said and unsaid. The essays in WHITE SPACE are lyrically deft and thrillingly honest, yes, but reading them what I felt most acutely was joy: the joy of watching a young woman write her way through the world and write her way into her own story, her own space of being.”

—Alex Marzano-Lesnevich, author of The Fact of a Body


This empathetic, wide-ranging look at De Leon’s growth as a thinker is a journey worth checking out.”