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 Ericka Carmona-Vega’s story.
It was 1998 when I finished reading L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables for what must’ve been the twentieth time. On the surface, I had little in common with the freckle-faced, red-haired Canadian orphan for whom the story was named. But much like Anne, I felt displaced as an immigrant and a marginalized dark-skinned indigenous Xicanx. With Anne by my side, I never felt alone. She helped me recognize the joy in my connection with land and culture. Through her journey, I embraced my spirituality and escaped racial tension in South Central LA.
By day I was a ceremonial Aztec dancer, community activist, and student; by night, I read and immersed myself in other realms of reality. My spirit was renewed when I closed one of my most treasured books and placed it on my lap. I knew then I would one day write a story of home, where marginalized children wouldn’t have to bend their imaginations to recognize their faces. I would write a story of community, hope, and joy, but first, I had to experience life.
I spent the next twenty years dreaming, envisioning, and researching the plot for an eight-volume series centering on the indigenous Xicanx experience. Twenty years where I was a nomad, living in many American towns and gaining inspiration everywhere, from my work in human resources to the writings of Sandra Cisneros. For years, I worked twelve-hour days, seven days a week, but in my free time, I thumbed through pages of codices and words of the ancient Mexico-Tenochca.
One good day, I brought a blackboard home and wrote my ultimate goal with thick white chalk. “Write this book,” it read.
After five years in D.C., my partner received an offer for employment in Chicago. As we packed and uprooted our lives, the words on the chalkboard changed. “We’re writing this book,” it read. My partner had envisioned it; my story would be born in Chicago.
My first few months in the city were filled with excitement. I was meeting new people within human resources, and I joined a professional association, Chicago SHRM. As fate should have it, this is where I met Jill Pollack, founder of StoryStudio Chicago. Jill invited me to an open house, which genuinely felt like a manifestation of the universe.
Ultimately, StoryStudio Chicago’s teachings and empowering methods of inquiry led me to finish my first novel of the Rise series.
Years later, I was able to experience the “Novel in a Year” program, guided first by Jac Jemc, who helped me contextualize my ideas, followed by Michael Zapata, whose approach to workshop and craft changed the course of my story. I was nominated to receive the Dana Wood Chaney Writers Fund in 2021. One year later, I was awarded a StoryStudio fellowship that led me to study with literary rock star Ingrid Rojas Contreras.
Ultimately, StoryStudio Chicago’s teachings and empowering methods of inquiry led me to finish my first novel of the Rise series. I’m now preparing to submit novel one for publication and begin work on novel two. Thanks to StoryStudio Chicago’s teachings and advocacy, I’ll have the opportunity to share my story. I hope a new generation of writers will be inspired by my journey and find themselves empowered to fulfill their personal legend with the help of StoryStudio Chicago.
Follow Ericka on IG and TikTok: @florycantoacademy