Member of the Week: Juana M. Ortiz, author of I Made It!

Juana M. Ortiz Name: Juana M. Ortiz

Book Title: I Made It!

Your book’s Amazon purchase link: https://www.amazon.com/I-Made-Juana-M-Ortiz/dp/1504901649/ 

What is your book about?

I Made It! is a memoir primarily about the struggles I faced due to a physical disability. I was born with cerebral palsy, which is a neurological disorder that affects my movement and speech. I wrote the book because since I was a little girl I have had to deal with prejudice, especially growing up in the Dominican Republic. Throughout the memoir I describe the many obstacles to achieving my goals, which seemed to be unreachable for so many years.  Even though it’s not a major part of the memoir, I also talk about my role as a female and as a Latina.

What inspired you to write your book?

The need to share my life experiences with the world was my impetus for writing the book. I had the need to say I made it despite the dire predictions and chronic underestimation of my abilities by many people (including myself at times). I wanted to show those who thought I would never be able to accomplish my dreams that I was able to.

I Made It!Can you describe your writing process? 

I try my best to devote as much time as possible to writing because it requires so much decision-making, problem-solving, and revision. When it comes to writing a book, I discovered that it requires tenacity, huge blocks of time, and lots of feedback from friends. 

How did you come to do what you’re doing today?

While I was growing up I never thought that I would be a writer. Once I reached my teen years, I began writing as a hobby even though I didn’t realize how therapeutic it was emotionally and mentally. Years later, thanks to one of my mentors, Mark Hillringhouse, I became aware of my talent as a writer.  My degrees and my memoir could not have been possible without the support that I have received from my family and my mentors along the way. I’m also very spiritual and believe that God guides me when it comes to writing and to all aspects of my life.

Can you describe a typical day in your life?

On a typical day, I listen to Tropical music in the morning while I drink a cup of coffee to get me going for the rest of the day. Then I try my best to spend some time reading memoirs by people from various walks of life or reading poetry.   I also love devoting some time doing any type of writing such as free writing, a short poem or just posting some thoughts on my Facebook page or the new blog that I just launched in Spanish. Hopefully, soon I will be able to launch one in English. Writing even just a few words and posting online allows my creative skills to come out. My day wouldn’t be complete without communicating with my family, especially my mother.   

What do you most enjoy about what you do?

I love hearing the readers of my book talking about my writing and saying how familiar they feel with my work. It makes me realize how many similarities we share as humans. At the same time, I feel I accomplished something important as a writer every time I hear someone say that she or he went through a similar experience.

Are there any people and/or books that have inspired you along your journey?

Yes, English professor and poet Mark Hillringhouse was and still is an important mentor to me. Reading his poetry inspired me to write personal stories and to share them with others. I have a couple of books that have influenced my writing style since I started devoting more time to poetry and essays. One of them is Hay Un Pais en el Mundo by Pedro Mir, a major poet from my native country, the Dominican Republic. Two other books that have inspired me are When I Was Puerto Rican by Esmeralda Santiago and Selected Poems by Pablo Neruda.

Can you share something that people may be surprised to learn about you?

I myself was surprised when I read the final couple of lines from one of the reviews on Amazon because it suggests that I may be able to make a real difference in how America views people with disabilities:

“Ms. Ortiz is an unstoppable force, and I can only hope that her book leads to some changes in our country’s approach to assisting and educating people with disabilities. This book is a must-read, and has potential for a documentary.” 

What’s next for you?

My next project might be writing a book of poetry.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

The ability to write a personal story or to create a poem is a privilege that many people don’t have. Those of us who do have the skill to express ourselves in a creative way should take advantage of it, not just for ourselves but for those who don’t have a voice.

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