Mireya S. Vela will serve as the 2020 WNBA Writing Contest’s creative nonfiction judge.
Introducing Mireya S. Vela
Mireya S. Vela is a Mexican American creative nonfiction writer, storyteller, and artist in Los Angeles. Both serious and gregarious, she tells great tales, using stark, pointed language, mythic themes, and deep examination. Much like her artwork, Mireya layers meaning between the lines. What emerges in these examinations and ruminations are essential questions that dig and tantalize.
Her acclaimed collection of essays, Vestiges of Courage — as in much of her work — addresses the needs of immigrant Mexican families and the disparities they face every day.
Mireya takes on issues of inequity and how ingrained societal systems support the ongoing injustice that contributes to continuing poverty and abuse. Other work can be found in Hippocampus Magazine, Nobel Gas Quarterly, Not Your Mother’s Breastmilk, The Nasiona, Miracle Monocle, Blanket Sea, and Collective Unrest.
Mireya has received four Pushcart Nominations and is frequently sought out for speaking engagements. She can be found at Twitter and Instagram: @mireyasvela and her visual art can be found on her website.
Get to Know Mireya
WNBA: What appeals to you about creative nonfiction writing, and what do you look for in a good CNF piece?
MSV: In order to make good creative nonfiction, you have to be really honest, really vulnerable. A good CNF piece is a layering of self-discovery. I guess the reason I love CNF is that the writer has to bare their souls. Whether they are discussing an abortion or whether they are discussing their take on butterflies, that rawness matters. In those candid moments, the reader gets a glimpse of that person’s humanity — and I love that. I love those honest flashes of fragility.
I love a daring writer. I love good narrative and a distinct voice. In a good CNF piece, the narrator is engaging, and they make the reader want to follow them into their journey of discovery. The story matters a lot too. But it’s really the way that the writer treats the material that makes a story both distinct and striking.
WNBA: How did you discover creative nonfiction writing is a passion, and whose CNF do you admire?
MSV: I grew up with a rich oral history. My mom, her sister, and my grandmothers were all storytellers. My maternal grandfather was an especially good storyteller, and he told us stories that were meant to be true but often had battles with devils. He also told stories about animals. Many of the people in my family told stories, but my grandfather was really gifted. He inserted folklore and bits of advice. And he was one of those people who knew when to slow down a story and when to look more deeply at what was happening.
My family and I got together every weekend to tell stories. It was one of the richest parts of my childhood. And what is CNF but a truth-based story told through a unique voice?
I love a good story, and I think there’s a thrill when you realize it’s based on someone’s experience. I love the work of Dorothy Allison, Roxanne Gay, Lidia Yuknavitch, Eula Biss, Primo Levi, and Kiese Laymon. I love stories that make the reader feel deeply and look closely at something that might be new to them. Or might feel new because of the way it is told. Or feels more powerful because it’s told from an unexpected angle.
WNBA: Two favorites: first, what is your favorite creative nonfiction piece of all time, and because WNBA members love books, what is your favorite book ever?
MSV: I think the creative nonfiction stories that most move me are those written by my friends. My buddy Gloria Harrison wrote a story called “Let’s See How Fast This Baby Will Go.” It was published in 2010 by The Nervous Breakdown. I love Gloria, and when I think that this story is part of who she is, I’m deeply moved. It makes me love her more for being this vulnerable and this strong — and so incredibly badass. I’m very aware that I’m this affected because she is my friend.
Another friend, Andrea Auten, wrote this story I also love called “The Takers” that is based on a friend who had who passed. I can’t read that story without crying. And I can’t read that story without feeling the glory of my friend’s words. I’m lucky to have such amazing friends who have gone through hard things like I have yet have somehow managed to because these are amazing women with beautiful hearts.
I think my favorite book of all time is Toni Morrison’s Beloved. The words from that book have stayed with me for decades. I think a lot about what that book was trying to convey about the pain of slavery. Morrison really did an amazing job of explaining the unexplainable pain of racism and slavery. Her books always make me think, “What’s enough? What words do I need to convey my human experience?” And, of course, I wonder if these words are enough.
WNBA: We’ve been experiencing a pandemic, a racial reckoning, and wildfires. How does writing contribute to your social justice pursuits, and how has this changed in these unprecedented times?
MSV: I’m a Latinx woman who comes from a family who thought her best attributes were silence and compliance. I think anytime I write anything, it’s an act of social justice. It means that I lived through that misogyny and refused to be silenced. It means that racism hasn’t done it’s best to hold me down.
Before I became a writer, I worked as a research and evaluation analyst. A major part of my job was to listen to and elevate the needs of people who were marginalized. I’ve been writing reports and advocating against racism and discrimination for a long time. Now, I’m doing it in a more creative platform. Of course, because I’ve been doing social justice work my entire life, the pieces I write are directly about protest.
The Nasiona published my first book. When I chose them, we were both new, both fledgling. And I chose them because they believe in publishing voices that have been traditionally silenced. The founder, Julián Esteban Torres López, and I have become good friends because of these common beliefs.
I like working with people who understand that racism and discrimination are issues that require ongoing attention and who are not afraid to do that work. And quite frankly, race work is hard. It’s hard to listen to other people’s pain while, at the same time, you navigate and negotiate your own worth in the United States. It’s hard, and it’s awful. But I hope I’m always available for it.
WNBA: What’s next for you?
MSV: I’m currently working on finding a publisher for my second book. But I’ve also gone back to teaching high school. I never thought I would do this again. I always felt that teaching was my calling.
It feels like an incredible gift to be working for the Pearl Democratic High School. I get to teach kids who’ve chosen to leave the traditional classroom setting. We work at deschooling and teaching the kids how to have confidence in guiding their own education. Again, this work has a lot to do with my social justice work. And I hope to continue to create opportunities for my students (no matter the age) to question systems of oppression.
I’m also doing a monthly reading series for The Nasiona. I’m proud and honored to be working with Julián again.
We thank Mireya for being our creative nonfiction judge this year.
The 2020 WNBA Writing Contest has four categories: fiction, creative nonfiction, flash prose, and poetry.
The contest is open to everyone.
Enter the 2020 WNBA Writing Contest.