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."
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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."
What's next: 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