Award-Winning Creative Writing Alumna Discusses Silver Medal Award
Ten years, lots of hard work and one Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing degree in the making, UTEP alumna Yasmín Ramírez, who graduated with her MFA from UTEP in 2013, is being recognized for her memoir, “¡Ándale, Prieta!: A Love Letter to My Family.”
The novel received a silver medal award in the International Latino Book Awards from Empowering Latino Futures, a California-based nonprofit organization with a mission to remove barriers to success and recognize greatness in various fields for Hispanics and other underserved communities.
The memoir follows Ramirez’s life as a Latina in her twenties navigating the death of her grandmother and searching for the same tenacity in herself with which her grandmother lived. Ramirez’s master’s thesis at UTEP was the basis of the book.
Read on to learn more about Ramírez, her work and how UTEP supported her in her journey.
How did it feel to win the award?
It was a little surreal because I found out through a text. A very good friend of mine, who kind of mentored me as well, was the one who messaged that I won the award. It’s definitely an honor. It’s really cool seeing how people are connecting with the book, and even the little comment that the reviewers made, that it’s “coming-of-age and heartfelt.” Those are all wonderful adjectives for me to read of my book.
Tell us about your writing journey. How old were you when you started writing?
I’ve always written. As a teen I wrote a lot, but I was not brave enough to share my work with anyone. I wrote short stories. Life’s journey is sort of curvy and roundabout sometimes, and I ended up in a place where I felt like I could make this leap and make writing something real. There’s always that stigma with artists, like, ‘How are you going to eat? How are you going to survive?’ So, I just started writing, and then while I was in the MFA program at UTEP, I had really wonderful professors who nurtured me, like my thesis director Lex Williford. I spent so much time in his office, and I even cried in his office a couple times, too, because writing is not easy, and it can be frustrating. I was lucky to have people like him nurture me.
Did you attempt to publish any other books before this?
Though this is my first book, I’ve had short stories published. But even if you look at the structure of the book, it sort of mimics short stories. Writing a novel seems so daunting, and so I found that breaking it into chunks makes the process more approachable for me.
Do you have plans for future books or exploring other genres?
This summer, I finished my second manuscript. It’s very much fiction. I’m taking a break from memoir. It’s a [young adult] fiction book tentatively titled “Her Name is Lola.” But it’s a first draft, and you know that first drafts are never perfect. So, I’m going to work on revising some of the things. I got some feedback from my agent. That’s my goal for December is to revise some of those pieces that aren’t working so well.
How was it writing “Andale Prieta?” How long did it take you? How many drafts did you go through?
My book was originally my thesis, and it won the thesis award that UTEP gives. I was really excited. And then I realized when I sent it out for submission, it still wasn’t quite right. It was great for a thesis, but it wasn’t a novel. So, I worked on it in spurts because I had to work, and I was teaching at that point as an adjunct professor [at EPCC]. Then, I was hired as a tenure track faculty member at El Paso Community College, and the five-year process [of becoming tenured] is pretty vigorous in that I really didn’t have any time to write other than the summer, and so I would write in the summers and that sort of holds true now. I write mostly in the summer and on winter breaks, and it works for me really well because I find that I don’t stop thinking about the story, so when I sit down to write it, I have the skeleton of it in my mind. I call myself a binge writer because I’ll sit down and work for hours and hours and hours at a time. So it took about eight years, but if I just count writing time, it was probably like two or three. I also needed emotional breaks from the story.
What were the challenges of writing memoir? Did you struggle with what to include and what not to include, and other people’s opinions?
I did encounter challenges with several parts, even stuff about myself that I [asked myself], ‘Do I really want everyone knowing this?’ What I found, what I had to remind myself, is I had to honor the story, because in earlier drafts, I was kind of holding back. But the reader can feel when there isn’t 100% truth on the page. I had to think about the story the whole time, because if I thought about the audience, there was no way I would have written all of the book because it’s intimidating and scary. But now, on the flip side of it, it’s interesting because so many people have connected with those really vulnerable sections, and I’ve gotten so many interesting messages about how people feel less alone because of some of the stuff I shared.
What advice would you give to budding writers?
There’s a process for all young writers. When they first start writing, they imitate other writers that they admired, and I think that’s normal, because you’re trying to find a pattern. You’re trying to find your voice. But we already have Emily Dickinson. We have Edgar Allan Poe. And I think oftentimes young writers undervalue their own voice and what they sound like on the page. So, instead of trying to sound like whoever their favorite author is, try sounding like yourself and embrace your stories and value them more.To learn more about UTEP’s MFA in creative writing program, visit https://www.utep.edu/programs/graduate/creative-writing-mfa.html
Last Updated on December 08, 2023 at 12:00 AM | Originally published December 08, 2023
By Julia Hettiger UTEP Marketing and Communications