“There is no such thing as ‘if you fail, you’re finished,’” says writer Stephanie Guerra, a 2014 CityArtist. Guerra’s stories show this; they’re full of second chances, and her characters make the most out of bad situations. Her new two-book series, which includes “Betting Blind” and “Out of Aces,” follow a 16-year- old boy who drops out of school and runs away to Las Vegas, and show that there is not only one path to follow in life.
This topic isn’t far out of the realm for Guerra, as she said she took many second chances in her own life — her series is partially based on when she ran away from home at a young age and moved to Las Vegas. “There are all kinds of different paths to success,” she says, as she talks about the many young people who are living alone and supporting themselves while going to school.
But Stephanie doesn’t only teach these lessons through her characters.
Guerra has been working with King County Jail for 10 years, and King County Juvenile Detention Center for 2 years, where she teaches creative writing, and gives students a safe and welcoming space to write. She sees her role there as providing joyful literacy experiences to these kids, while also teaching them that writing is a free activity, a skill that can be done anytime, opening their minds to possibilities and curing some boredom. Guerra says one girl that she works with is going to be a novelist when she grows up, and everyone gets excited when it’s this girl’s turn to read out loud, because everyone knows it’s going to be something ‘real’.
Teaching and learning is never one-sided; Guerra learns from the students while they’re learning from her. One great example: as she was doing a reading of her new book in the boys’ hall of the King County Juvenile Detention, students jumped in to correct her, giving her dialogue tips: “That’s not how boys talk!” “In that situation, he would change the subject, or say something distracting!” So Guerra gave the boys her manuscript to mark up and said she would credit them using their initials – because they were right. They knew how boys talk, and this gave her an opportunity to share and listen with her audience. When she watched these kids edit her manuscript, she saw firsthand the value of utilizing her audience in creating the book.
“I always knew what I was supposed to do,” she responds to the question “Why did you become a writer?” And I agree: mixing literature with social justice work seems to be exactly what Stephanie Guerra is supposed to being doing, and she’s doing it well. If you need more proof, watch this review of her last book, “Billy the Kid is Not Crazy”:
In Stephanie Guerra’s new series, “Betting Blind” will be published in November 2014, and “Out of Aces” is set to be released in May 2015!
All images and video courtesy Stephanie Guerra.
The CityArtist program supports the development and presentation of work by independent Seattle-based artists. The Office of Arts & Culture will post/share stories about the CityArtist’s works in-progress based on interviews and site visits by staff members Annie Holden and Irene Gómez. Learn more about the CityArtist grant here, and read more CityArtist stories here.