100 Creatives 2012: Sarah Cortez, Writer
What she does:
Houston writer Sarah Cortez has spent almost 30 years building her career... and says she's done it all without earning any degrees in creative writing. Early in her life she had earned her BA in Psychology and Religious Studies at Rice University and stayed for a while after graduating to teach. While at Rice, her interest switched to ancient Greek and Latin and comparative mythology...so she decided to pursue her MA in Classical Studies at UT in Austin. Shortly after that, Cortez found herself teaching English and Latin at St. Agnes Academy, but because of low pay, started attending night classes at the University of Houston, working towards an MS in accounting.
And so began her 14-year corporate career, working for firms such as Arthur Anderson. But no matter what else she was doing, she was always looking for ways to continue her writing.
"When I had a corporate career...I worked long hours, but I would get up at 4:30 every morning. I would run and then I would make my list and I would have my list of three things I will do today for my writing. And they could be simple...like go to the library and look at this journal...or try to get a copy of this poem."
When she wasn't working at her corporate job or on her writing, she was doing volunteer work for Neartown Association, which represented more than 30,000 people in the Montrose area. Cortez says it was through her volunteer work that she would fall in love with policing, and so left her corporate career, taking a 75 percent pay cut, earning a certification as a Peace Officer and working as a police officer for the next six years. But even while policing, Cortez says, she would still try to take at least one writing workshop a year.
Eventually she decided to leave the police force after being offered a position as a visiting scholar at UH in 2000. She says that's when her writing career really took off. Now she is a fulltime writer, editor and teacher of creative writing. After leaving UH in 2008, she began teaching university and master-level writing courses from her home. Her classes focus on types of genre fiction, including mystery, crime and romance. She also offers master classes in poetry, memoir essay, spiritual essay and writing a spiritual legacy.
She also recently had her spiritual memoir, Walking Home: Growing Up Hispanic in Houston, published and released by the Texas Review Press and was winner of the PEN Texas Literary Award in 1999.
Why she likes it:
"I love working with writers. That's part of why I still teach, is I love working with writers and I'm very good at seeing the architecture of a piece and what needs to be done to make it better. I love all of the genres. I'm principally a literary writer, but a lot of people that call themselves literary writers look down on popular fiction, for instance...but I don't. I love it all. I just, in my general approach to life, I don't think it's right to look down on other people's creative expressions."
What inspires her:
"Some master poets that I read inspire me to keep writing, or master of fiction writers. A master fiction writer is Megan Abbott. You read her and she writes a whole novel as carefully as most of us write poetry. Master poet Larry D. Thomas, Ex-Poet Laureate of Texas. These are just people that I read their work and it makes me want to get better as a writer."
If not this, then what:
She says she'd be on the street again, putting people in jail.
"I love police work. My two great loves are poetry and police work." Why does she love it? "It's an opportunity to stand up for what you believe."
If not here, then where:
Alpine, Texas, she says. "It's beautiful. It's high desert country and it's a very law-and-order town."
She says she has several prose books that are in the works. She's also negotiating a national editing project with some companies she declined to name and was recently invited to Los Angeles for a reading of "The Secret," a poem from her soon to be released book Cold Blue Steel, a collection of poems about police work and the fire service.
More Creatives for 2012
(In order of most recently published; click here for the full page).
Kent Dorn, drawer, painter, artist
Lillian Warren, painter
Carl Lindahl, folklorist, UH professor
Sutapa Ghosh, film producer and Indian Film Festival of Houston organizer
Tom Stell, actor, writer, director
Gregory Oaks, teacher and Poison Pen co-founder
Oliver Halkowich, dancer and performer
Lupe Mendez, poet and poem pusher
Jason Nodler, artistic director, playwright, director
Ana Treviño-Godfrey, musician
Matthew Detrick, classical musician
Travis Ammons, filmmaker
Florence Garvey, actress
Julia Gabriel, artist, designer and backpack maker
Rebecca French, choreographer and FrenetiCore co-founder
Kiki Neumann, found object folk artist
Flynn Prejean, Poster Artist
JoDee Engle, dancer
David Rainey, actor, artistic director and teacher
Geoff Hippenstiel, painter, art instructor
Jessica Janes, actress and musician
Dennis Draper, actor and director
Mat Johnson, novelist and tweeter
Orna Feinstein, printmaker and installation artist
Adriana Soto, jewelry designer
Domokos Benczédi, Noise and Collage Artist
Robert Boswell, Book Author, UH Prof
Patrick Turk, visual artist
Elizabeth Keel, playwright
Bob Martin, designer
Mary Lampe, short film promoter and developer
Nisha Gosar, Indian classical dancer
Jeremy Wells, painter
George Brock, theater teacher
Radu Runcanu, painter
Ariane Roesch, Mixed-Media
Sandie Zilker, art jewelry maker
Philip Hayes, actor
Patrick Palmer, painter
Ana Mae Holmes, Jewelry Designer
John Tyson, actor
Jerry Ochoa, violinist and filmmaker
Raul Gonzalez, painter, sculptor, photographer
Roy Williams, DJ of medieval music
Laura Burlton, photographer
David Peck, fashion designer
Rebecca Udden, theater director
Donae Cangelosi Chramosta, vintage designer handbag dealer
Paul Fredric, author
John Sparagana, photographer
Damon Smith, musician and visual artist
Geoff Winningham, photographer
Johnathon Michael Espinoza, visual artist
Jaemi Blair Loeb, conductor
Katya Horner, photographer
Johnathan Felton, artist
Nicoletta Maranos, cosplayer
Carol Simmons, hair stylist
Joseph "JoeP" Palmore, actor, poet
Greg Carter, director
Kenn McLaughlin, theater director
Justin Whitney, musician
Antone Pham, tattoo artist
Susie Silbert, crafts
Lauralee Capelo, hair designer
Marisol Monasterio, flamenco dancer
Carmina Bell, promoter and DJ
ReShonda Tate Billingsley, writer
Kiki Lucas, choreographer and director
J.J. Johnston, theater director
Mary Margaret Hansen, artist
Richard Tallent, photographer
Viswa Subbaraman, opera director
Emily Sloan, sculptor and performance artist
Sonja Roesch, gallery owner
Enrique Carreón-Robledo, conductor
Sandy Ewen, musician
Camella Clements, puppeteer
Wade Wilson, gallery owner
Magid Salmi, photographer
Carl Williams, playwright