by Melinda Palacio
Stella Pope Duarte
Author and storyteller Stella Pope Duarte knows how to spin a tale. Beyond her many books and awards, her generosity and faith set her apart from most writers. After several careers, mostly in education, she began writing in 1995 after she had a dream that her deceased father told her to follow her destiny and become a writer. Not only does she sit at home churning out compelling prose and metaphors, but she shares her gift by traveling across the country and teaching the craft of writing. She’s taught creative writing to all levels. “I’ve always been an educator,” she said. Her words of wisdom begin with changes she’s experienced from within.
“It was me I had to change. My stories began to teach me. What I really wanted was to be free and let my spirit develop.”
In our phone conversation, Stella Pope Duarte was inspiring and mesmerizing. She described being at a school carnival and being offered a bench to stand on. She stood on the bench, taking note of the kids laughing and eating cotton candy and enjoying the rides. When started to tell a story, the entire carnival froze. “It seemed like the swings stopped in mid air,” she said. She captures that same sense of wonder whenever she speaks or writes her stories. Her unassuming presence is hypnotic, and before you know it, you are listening to a master. Pick up any of her books and see for yourself: Let Their Spirits Dance, Fragile Night, If I Die in Juárez (American Book Award 2009) or her short story collection, Women Who Live in Coffee Shops and Other Stories (Chicano/Latino Literary Prize winner 2008 University of California at Irvine. She is no stranger to La Bloga and has been featured in a spotlight and interview by Daniel Olivas in 2008.
Currently, Stella is venturing into poetry. With her poems, she composes quickly and with her eyes closed (something she doesn’t advise doing); the strategy works for her. “The more I get out of the way the better the poem.”
As a teacher, Stella is extremely generous and her best creative writing students often become part of her family. She offers a line-by-line critique and goes the extra mile for students she believes have the calling for storytelling. She strongly believes in the young writers she works with. Of her mentorship, Manuel Saldate, 28, writes:
“I stopped writing for a long while, but it was in Stella’s class that motivated and inspired me to continue writing. Her mentorship has helped me reflect more internally and not hold back in my writing and tell more meaningful stories with multi-layered characters. I chose her as a mentor because I admired her style as a writer, very true to who she is as an individual; honest and culturally aware. Too, she’s an amazing presenter and oral storyteller. One of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned working with Stella is to write tight! Use strong words that count.”
Publishers Weekly reviewed Ocotillo Dreams last month. "Palacio's poet's eye reveals a vibrantly painted desert culture of fragile beauty and uncompromising harshness." -- Publisher's Weekly 11/14/2011
I will be singing in Las Posadas next Friday in Santa Barbara, 7pm at the Presidio Chapel.
Because I haven't stopped feeling gratitude...
Thank you Stella Pope Duarte for the interview and your generous blurb of Ocotillo Dreams.
Coming Soon... Early 2012.
January 9, 2012 I will be part of a teleconference hosted by Las Comadres Para las Americas, along with Julia Amante and Lyn Di lorio at 7pm Central time. Join Las Comadres to take advantage of the book giveaways and more.