how to tell a story – writing my way to the answer
Monica [http://irismonicavargas.com/monica/ ]
I am an independent writer, a trained Physicist, and, fair to say, life-long student as well as unavoidably, and eternally, an island girl. Puerto Rico is the Caribbean island I grew up. I migrated to Cambridge, Massachusetts, six years ago to complete a fellowship at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. Before that, I completed a master’s degree in Physics, and a double bachelor’s degree in Physics and Biology.
So far, I have had the incredible luck to have encountered many inspiring mentors along the way, and I feel very proud of that. El Nuevo Día, Puerto Rico’s main newspaper, and specifically, Francisco Vacas, gave me my first writing experience for a general audience. With Francisco as my mentor, I wrote a bi-monthly column called “Ciencia Boricua”, which was named Best New Column of the Year Award by the colleagues at the newspaper in 2005.
In 2009, I collaborated with Harvard Science, under the supervision of Pulizer Prize winning journalist B.D. Colen. That same year, after what constituted my second application (yes! persistence and hard-work = key) to the program, I graduated from Science Writing at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) – a great achievement for me because my first language is Spanish, not English. (I learned English by writing to a Californian pen pal, named Shane Wilson, for an entire decade plus three additional years. My letters then were composites of sentences I copied from books and encyclopedias. Talk about patience! [Oh! And no: I have never met Shane in person. If you are out there, Shane, please write to me. I wish I could tell you the difference you made in my life. I still treasure all of the letters you sent me throughout the years, by the way.])
During my time at MIT, I had the amazing opportunity to polish my skills as a writer under the guidance of wonderful writers such as Russ Rymer (Genie), Alan Lightman (Einstein’s Dreams, Mr. G), Marcia Bartusiak (The Day We Found The Universe), Robert Kanigel (On An Irish Island), and Tom Levenson (Einstein in Berlin).
At MIT, I also had the pleasure of learning the craft of fiction writing under the tutelage of insightful, funny, and quirky Junot Díaz (Winner of the Pulitzer Prize in 2008 for his first novel “The Brief, Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao“).
That same year at Harvard, I am finally had the opportunity to formalize my love for poetry under the guidance of Academy of American Poets award winner Peter Richards (Nude Siren) – a wonderful, insightful writer and teacher.
I believe that being a writer is ten percent talent and ninety percent hard work – practice, practice and more practice. I say I believe it, yes, though I not always have “faith” in the process. Everyone has those days… Junot Diaz said it best: “You see, in my view a writer is a writer not because she writes well and easily, because she has amazing talent, because everything she does is golden. In my view a writer is a writer because even when there is no hope, even when nothing you do shows any sign of promise, you keep writing anyway.“
My first book “La última caricia” (The Last Caress), a poetic meditation about the process of dissection of a human body – told from the perspectives of a medical student and the donor who has offered his body to science – is on its way out into the world this fall – its partum assisted by award winning Puerto Rican novelist, short story writer and essayist Yolanda Arroyo Pizarro (chosen, in 2008, as one of the most important Latin American writers under 39 as part of Bogotá39 convened by UNESCO).
Currently, I am working on a second piece, a book about the lives and stories of the hospital as seen from the perspective of a medical interpreter.