To celebrate our 20th Anniversary in 2023, we’re highlighting 20 stories that have helped shape StoryStudio over the years. Each month of 2023, we’ll be featuring one or two members of our community as they share their story. Whether they came from the very first class that Jill started in 2003 when StoryStudio was just a few folding chairs and a dream, or they’re from the most recent cohort of Novel in a Year students, on their way to publishing a book; these members make StoryStudio what it is.
Below is Ines’ story.
I like to joke that I am the only person in history to have moved from New York City to Chicago to become a writer. And though there are others that have wised up to the genius of underlying that scheme, I was nervous about that decision back in 2011. I knew no one in the city. I only had a vague sense of what its literary history was like. Even more concerning, I had no idea what its literary present entailed—where were the writers, the publishers, the editors, the movers and shakers that were supposed to make my literary dreams come true? A frantic Google search led me to the website of a writing center called StoryStudio, which happened to be hosting an open house only a few weeks later. On that night, as I was greeted warmly by Jill and other locals, I found something even more meaningful than I anticipated: a home.
During my decade in Chicago, I was able to experience StoryStudio through all the roles possible: student, teacher, staff member, loyal fan. In those first years, I took several fiction and YA workshops, which were crucial in reshaping my own writing goals after a highfalutin stint as a PhD candidate drop-out. The classes I took with Ian Belknap led me to the rich and lively storytelling scene in Chicago, a creative venue I never even knew existed. Thanks to his guidance and encouragement, I was able to find my voice and performed in shows all over the city. Forget LinkedIn; being an active member of that community did more to connect me with local writers and publishing opportunities than my resume ever did. Determined to keep working on my craft and to finish a manuscript once and for all, I applied and was accepted into James Klise’s Novel-in-a-Year: YA & Middle Grade. With his feedback and the support of the best cohort a girl could want, my manuscript was awarded the 2021 Emerging Voices Award by the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.
To say I owe my writing career to StoryStudio is not an exaggeration. Yes, I love my hyperboles, but in this case the gushing is warranted. This is the place that believes in you before you even start believing in yourself.
I also had the opportunity to be an instructor and staff member during one of its most transformative (and tumultuous thanks to the panini) periods. Even in these roles, I felt like I was continuing my studies because they showed me so much about the importance of community, mentorship, and literary citizenship. Whatever contributions I have made to the organization, they pale in comparison to the friendship and support I have received from one of the hardest-working teams in the city.
To say I owe my writing career to StoryStudio is not an exaggeration. Yes, I love my hyperboles, but in this case the gushing is warranted. This is the place that believes in you before you even start believing in yourself. Now that I am back in New York, I feel so fortunate to have had a warm, welcoming, and nurturing environment like StoryStudio to help me understand who I am as a writer.