Original URL: http://www.azcentral.com/arizonarepublic/centralphoenix/articles/0130phxcesl0130Z4.html

Author encourages students to 'delve into their culture'
The Arizona Republic
Jan. 30, 2004 12:00 AM

Doug Carroll

Author Stella Pope Duarte looks out at a classroom full of teenagers and sees a younger version of herself. Barely.

"I was voted the shyest in my school," Duarte said after speaking to students during a recent writing workshop at Hamilton High School in Chandler. "If anyone had seen me, they would have overlooked me.

"I'm always looking for one like me."

Duarte, born and reared in a south Phoenix barrio among a family of eight children, went on to Phoenix Union High School and Arizona State University. Fragile Night, her first collection of short stories, was published in 1997 to wide acclaim.

Her current novel, Let Their Spirits Dance, about a Phoenix family's spiritual journey to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall, was published in 2002. She is at work on two parallel writing projects - one set in Tucson and the other in Juarez, Chihuahua, Mexico.

Despite a number of awards and honors for her work, Duarte is proudest of simply being published. She began her literary career in 1995 after a dream in which her late father appeared and said her destiny was to write.

The seeds had been planted long before that, however.

"Words danced in my head as a little girl," Duarte said. "People didn't understand me. They would say, 'Why do you think these things? Where do they come from?'

"That was tough, being different. I could go into a room with a photographic memory. But if you told me I was a writer, I would have said no."

Duarte told her audience, many of them English as a second language students, to pay careful attention to the voice within.

"Everything beautiful is already inside of them," she said. "They don't know that. I try to tell them that, and it opens them up sometimes. They start looking at the images inside their head.

"I tell them to delve into their culture. Our society judges and ranks you by what you have. But it's not what you have, it's what is already there."

Duarte encouraged the students to file away stories and memories for future creative use. She said they need to think about what makes their life unique or special.

"By looking at me," she said, "you don't know that I hate elevators and I like the ocean. I like anything chocolate. I want you to think about yourself, about something that nobody would know about you. That's the way you start.

"Don't you ever be ashamed of who you are, or for searching out where you come from. Don't apologize for looking for the things you value and love."

Duarte's appearance at the school was sponsored by the Chandler Public Library and funded by a grant from Mervyn's.

Reach the reporter at doug.carroll@arizonarepublic.com or (602) 444-7945.

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