Reyna Grande, 2003 Emerging Voices Fellow, shares the moment when she realized her dream of becoming a writer was slipping away from her. The author of Across A Hundred Mountains, Dancing with Butterflies, and The Distance Between Us credits the Emerging Voices Fellowship for changing her career path and opening the doors to publication.
“I believe that when you finally decide to seize your dream and not let anything keep you from it, the universe will do what it can to help you get there.
At least, that’s what happened to me.
When I applied to the Emerging Voices Fellowship, I was in a very dark hole. Four years earlier, I’d graduated from University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC) with a B.A. in creative writing and film. I spent six months sleeping on my brother’s couch in his living room as I struggled to find a job—I mean a real job. Both in the film industry and in writing, it isn’t very easy to find paying work. I got an internship editing footage for a local TV news show, but it was unpaid and the clock was ticking. In January, my student loans would kick in and I needed money. So I did what most of my friends were doing—I went to the Los Angeles Unified School District office and within two hours I had a job teaching at a middle school. Yes, that was back when LAUSD had a teacher shortage and they were taking anyone—I mean, anyone—as long as you had a B.A. I had never even taken a single education class in my life, and now here I was being given an “emergency credential.” I got one week of training (mostly on how to fill out my roster) and there I was, thrown into a classroom in South Central L.A.
Four years later, I found myself deeply depressed. I hadn’t written anything at all. I was trying to keep my head above water doing a job that I didn’t know how to do, a job, if truth be told, that I didn’t WANT to do. I was also a single mother of a baby boy. One day, in the summer of 2002, I woke up gripped with fear. My dream of being a writer was slipping away almost entirely. I thought about those years at UCSC and how much I had loved to write. Never a day went by when I didn’t write. And now, look at me now, four years had gone by and I had nothing to show for it, nothing that had brought me closer to my dream.
I saw the future before me, and it was dark and sad. It terrified me to know that I had failed at making my dream a reality.
But in one last attempt at digging myself out of that dark hole, I made a decision. I enrolled myself in a weekend class at UCLA Extension Writers Program as a way to get a hold on my dream again.
As soon as I made that decision, the universe did its work.
I took that weekend course with Maria Amparo Escandon, an amazing Latina writer. I felt very inspired to be back in a writing class, and I was ready to go home and write. At the end of the class, Maria Amparo pulled me aside and said, ‘Have you heard of the Emerging Voices program?’ I hadn’t heard of it. I had spent the last four years struggling so much with my job and then my baby, I really hadn’t paid much attention to what went on in L.A. Maria Amparo told me about Emerging Voices and she strongly suggested that I apply, but the deadline was that coming Friday! I had six days to put my application together, polish twenty pages of my work, and get the letters of recommendation. It was crazy, but I wanted it so badly I hurried home and started to work on it.
On Friday, my former English teacher from Pasadena City College met me at the post office and handed me the letter of recommendation. I sealed the envelope and put the application in the mail slot.
Then I got a call.
Then the interview came.
Then I was accepted and I became a 2003 Emerging Voices Fellow, where I worked on my first novel, which I had begun at UCSC four years before and hadn’t touched since. Maria Amparo Escandon was an amazing mentor, and under her guidance my novel began to take shape. Everyone at PEN Center USA was supportive, and I had never felt more determined than I did during the fellowship.
In June, one of the guest speakers for Emerging Voices was Jenoyne Adams, who was then a literary agent at Levine-Greenberg Agency. I told her about my novel-in-progress and, after reading it, she took me on as a client. A few months later, Malaika Adero, senior vice president at Atria (an imprint of Simon & Schuster), offered me a contract. Across a Hundred Mountains was published in 2006. In 2007, it won an American Book Award and the El Premio Aztlan Literary Award.
Now, three books later, I think about that day when I woke up seized with fear at realizing that I had allowed my dream of being a writer to slip away from me. I remember how I decided I wasn’t going to let that happen, and then, miraculously, Emerging Voices appeared before me and opened the doors of publication to me. I will be forever grateful to Emerging Voices for helping me make my dream come true, for teaching me that when you make the decision to seize your dream, the universe with align itself to get you there.
So what are you waiting for?"
The 2015 Emerging Voices Fellowship application is now available. For more information, click here.