Meet Awards Alum Carolina Ixta Navarro-Gutiérrez
After spending April in Florida with Mary, we’re traveling (virtually) across the country this May to visit our latest alumna, Carolina Ixta Navarro-Gutiérrez in California! Carolina has been involved with the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards since 2012, when she received her first Gold Medal in novel writing. Over the next two years, Carolina went on to win three more Scholastic Awards: an American Voices Medal in poetry and two Silver Medals in novel writing. Read on to hear from Carolina about her journey as writer in high school to an elementary school teacher and published author today. Don’t forget to check out Carolina’s prompt, including how to share your art or writing inspired by the prompt for the chance to win a gift card, at the bottom of the post!
Q & A with Carolina Ixta Navarro-Gutiérrez
Q: What impact did receiving your Scholastic Award have on you and your path?
No one in my family is an artist. I spent most of my life being misunderstood because of it, and thought of myself (and still sometimes do) as just a person with a hobby. It wasn’t until I received an award for it that I fully began to realize being an artist as part of my identity. There’s a lot of flawed logic with that, and I don’t believe receiving an award or an accolade is at all the way to define yourself as an artist. But it helped my family begin to understand what I was doing all that time in my room. It took me years to understand that many times for communities of color or immigrant communities, awards and certificates are tactile things to hold onto to validate hard work. Oftentimes, we aren’t given much else. There is more to say about that mentality, its perils and its conquests, but that validation helped me feel understood and seen in the schema of art. Further, it gave my family something to hold to feel pride in a space people like us had been, and still actively are, excluded from for such a long time.
Q: How did you pursue your creativity after high school?
I adamantly tried to take a clean break from being creative after high school. I’d tried writing a novel each year since I turned thirteen and after writing about five, three of which were manuscripts that I submitted to the Awards, I was exhausted by writing. I chose not to apply to art school, and thought that by going to a regular, public university it would give me time away from art to gather myself. It didn’t really work. I could not get away from writing. When you love something, you become it or it becomes you.
I went to the University of California, Santa Cruz and had a long-winded, tangled major of intensive literature with a concentration in creative writing in fiction (intensive concentration in Spanish literature), a double-major in Spanish studies with a concentration in literature and culture, and a minor in education. I was a staff editor for an on-campus anthology. I read voraciously. I was an intern for my creative writing department. I began writing things here and there, which were published in campus magazines. I later went to the University of California, Berkeley for my master’s degree in education. I figured I should try to angle myself into something that wasn’t so based in writing, but found myself reading poetry during lectures and published things while I was studying there, too.
Perhaps the largest way I pursued creativity was by being consistently creative. I set reading time-consuming novels and novel writing to the side for a while, and focused on experimenting elsewhere. I wrote flash fiction and memoir. I listened to more music. I read the thesaurus constantly. I read short story collections and poetry. I learned about inequities in our education system and, subsequently, in the world of art. I also had a realization that I spent a lot of my youth writing about life instead of actually living it, so I did some living too. I threw parties. I laughed with my roommates. I dated horrible people. I laughed with my roommates about the horrible people I dated. I made new friends. I met my wonderful partner, who I’m still lucky to love. While the trajectory or the subject matter of my production was not consistent, and while it may not have always looked like art, all of it worked to feed into itself. It all became an amalgamation that worked to sustain my time in art and my production of it.
Q: What are you up to now?
I live with my life partner, Jonathan, my friend, Karen, and my daughter/cat, Luna in Berkeley, CA. I teach a bilingual fifth grade class in the East Bay Area. I read what I can, when I can, and try to have a strict rule about reading work only written by writers of color. I whip around in my RAV4 and spend way too much time in grocery stores. I’m submitting my writing to various places and nodding understandingly each time I get declined. I think I’m working on two young adult novels with young Latina women as protagonists, and trying to break tropes set forward for us by whiteness–who knows what will come of that, but writing at that length has been very liberating.
Q: Where can people find your work?
I wrote a memoir titled, And Other Circular Things, published by Spilt Lip Magazine in 2019. They also gave me my first Best of the Net nomination, for which I am grateful. This spring I had Two Stories, published in 580 Split, one longer piece of fiction and one flash fiction piece. I extend my gratitude to them as well.
Q: Anything else you want to share with young artists and writers, and the people supporting them?
My experience with this award system is not one that I believe is common. While on the Scholastic Awards Alumnus Writer’s Residency this past summer, I had a really impactful conversation with my fellow resident, Da’Shawn, and Yahdon Israel. At dinner, Da’Shawn and I were asked how we found out about the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards and I had to report that it was a fluke for me. A lucky Google search, coupled with years of hard work and talent. It wasn’t until I was sixteen, my second year receiving an award with the program, and I was at Carnegie Hall in New York City for the National Ceremony that I was struck with the magnitude and prestige of the award system.
I spiraled into something I could not describe then, but now have the language to define as imposter syndrome. I didn’t go to an art high school, or middle school, or elementary school. No teacher pushed me to submit. I didn’t even know what I was doing when I did it. I stayed up late poring over the applications with my mom, who was more confused and mystified by the process than I was, and got my applications signed off by my biology teacher, who also had never heard of the Awards. I was at the ceremony very keenly aware of my positionality: my race, my Title I public school, my single parent, my generational status. I convinced myself that I received the award out of luck, not out of work, and talked down my accomplishments around writing for years. The local papers wrote about me, I was honored by having a holiday declared in my name in a local town, I was decorated at my high school graduation, but I convinced myself that I was just so lucky.
I’m older now, and much smarter. I know we train people of color, especially women of color, to shy away from acknowledging their merits. I know obstacles are put in front of black and brown students. I know students who attend Title I schools are more likely to drop out of school or feed the school-to-prison pipeline than they are to ever receive a national writing award. I know imposter syndrome does not just happen, it’s built. And I know that, despite this, there are privileges that got me to where I was–an educated mother, an able body, a place to live, a supportive environment.
This is all to say that if you don’t think you’re good enough to apply, or you’ve gotten the award and it feels hollow in your hands, you have a place. It’s not just luck. It’s work–and you may be working harder than others. It’s not a fair system, any system, and that might be the reason it’s so important for you to be there.
And the imposter syndrome is just a surface level. As you write more, it gets more complicated. While at that dinner with Yahdon, he spoke a lot about how the culture of writing is so different for non-white writers. We are asked to untangle our subject matter– which can often be riddled with trauma and used to vilify one person’s experience as the experience for our entire communities–and are rarely asked about our stylistic choices or process. White readers and interviewees and editors are often fixated on why we did something, not how we did it, and have trained their ears to fish for the trauma before the art process. Prepare yourself for those conversations and be sharp with your responses. You’ve got more to offer than the surface level; you don’t have to write about your trauma. You’re multi-faceted, not well-angled. Walk the walk. Champion yourself.
Start.Write.Now Prompt from Carolina Ixta Navarro-Gutiérrez
A note from Carolina on finding her inspiration: It’s a mix of necessity and responsibility. My biggest inspiration has been the frustration I feel when I go to a bookstore. When I was younger, my mom would let me camp in the Barnes & Nobles fiction aisles while I searched for books that did not yet exist. I continued to do this as I got older, and am sometimes surprised by the progression of literature, but mainly detained in my disappointment. How many more books about two heterosexual white people falling in love can we publish, while the books about people of color are few and far between– and still manage to be bloated with trauma? I write with anger and a lot of resentment, but I think it pushes my best work. I feel it’s necessary for me to say something that has yet to be said, and to say it responsibly. With this, I get most inspired driving around and looking at the many homes I’ve had. What stories lie beneath those surfaces that are real or could be fictitious? What imagery is tactile in a distant view of a skyline? How can I compound this into doing something that has not been done with this subject matter?
The Prompt: Draw inspiration from your hometown.
Go for a drive or a walk in your hometown, or any town you are familiar with. Think about it as a body. What do the arteries carry? Who speaks from the mouth? What do the limbs carry? What do the arms hold? Where do the eyes focus?
Alternatively, pretend you have never been to your hometown before. Try to describe it as if it is someplace new to you. You’ll be surprised what mundane things about your home begin to excite you.
As a reminder, all responses to the Start.Write.Now post are due June 8. Email your responses to us at firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line “Start.Write.Now.” Make sure to review our guidelines for participating before emailing in your work. Everyone is invited to use this prompt as inspiration for your work this summer, even if you choose not to or are ineligible to participate in the Start.Write.Now challenge.
Check back on June 17 to see to see the works that this prompt inspired and who will be our lucky gift card winners! On June 18, come back to meet our next featured alumnus and see the June.Start.Write.Now prompt.
All participants must be 13 years of age or older, and follow the Scholastic Awards eligibility criteria. For more information on participating, please see our full guidelines.
Have something thoughtful to share?
Email us at email@example.com to share your inspiration. We want to hear from you! #thoughtfulthursday