20 Stories: (#5) Sahar Mustafah

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 Sahar Mustafah’s story.

I don’t believe writing is a lonely endeavor as much as a solitary one. What I do believe is every writer needs community – that might be the antidote to what creators deem this state of loneliness in creating art. After my MFA program ended, it was like post-partum. I have this body of work and now what was I supposed to do with it? Fortunately, rather than end up in the proverbial bottom drawer of my desk, my thesis – a short story collection – earned a publishing prize with an indie house. Great. Done. I could check that off my list. 

But what about my current projects, or the future of my writing? Where could I find peers who could meaningfully read my work and I, in turn, read theirs to grow? Who would be my mentors outside of a prescribed degree? 

I’d begun writing my first novel inspired by a volatile real-life crime and had no idea what I was doing. I felt isolated and lacking a healthy creative regiment. That’s when I discovered StoryStudio Chicago. The Novel-in-a-Year program changed my professional writing life. Under Rebecca Makkai’s guidance, I produced an exploratory draft of my debut novel which went on to be one of New York Times Book Review 100 Notable Books in 2020, among other accolades. 

That’s when I discovered StoryStudio Chicago. The Novel-in-a-Year program changed my professional writing life.

And more than a book, the program produced a more permanent effect on my writing: a newfound community of other like-minded writers. I would feel brave enough to initiate a writing group with three members of that NIAY cohort–diverse and inclusive–who continue to engage in my work and with whom I’ve cultivated critical self-care. That’s what StoryStudio is at its heart: it creates and nurtures community. 

I’ll continue creating alone, but I’ll never be lonely in the process thanks to SSC. 

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