By: Gail Obenreder
“Putting my thoughts on the page has been life-saving and cathartic. My goal is to show others that there is hope.”
Liz DeJesus grew up – with two brothers – in Las Piedras, Puerto Rico, where “my childhood should have been a tropical paradise.” Instead, she suffered such bullying from friends and classmates that she turned to writing for salvation. No one understood her love of books and art, so she kept a journal and wrote poetry and stories. With pen and paper in hand, DeJesus felt “fearless . . . I could roar like the mighty wind.”
There were no libraries or bookstores in Las Piedras; she and her mother traveled 90 minutes to Old San Juan once or twice a month seeking things she could read. So, when at age 17 she moved to Delaware – with its library system and easy access to books – DeJesus felt a rush of energy and gratitude. She began reading voraciously, including books on literary craft, and taught herself to write in English, since “some of my favorite novels were written in English.”
I splashed cold water on my face and gazed at my reflection in the medicine cabinet mirror. I watched droplets travel down my cheek to my chin; my eyes fixated on a droplet clinging to the edge of my chin as if falling wasn’t an option.
Focusing on the droplet was better than thinking about other things, including the stabbing pain in my shoulders that threatened my lower back whenever I leaned over. There was no hiding the dark circles under my eyes from nightmares that plagued me night after night.
At the corners of my eyes, crows’ feet were getting deeper and deeper. More and more white and gray hairs were peppering my brown roots; the first streak of gray shooting across my scalp the day my best friend, Mary, passed away. The others arrived courtesy of the COVID-19 pandemic.
DeJesus was originally influenced by fairy tales and classic writings (like Langston Hughes works and Shakespeare’s Sonnets), but since moving here in 1999, she has found additional inspiration in the work and attention of Delaware writers Juliana Baggott and Marisa de los Santos. “They were the first authors I met in person,” and their kindness toward a young new-to-America writer led DeJesus to make time for other beginners.
While raising two children, she’s worked at bookstores, libraries, and schools, carving out time to write. Among many things, she’s written 7 books (including a self-published novel) while organizing literary projects like the Hockessin Book Fair and a mini comic-con at the Claymont Community Center. Interested in comic books, DeJesus attends comic-cons, where she promotes her books. And she’s also an avid crafter. “When I’m not writing or reading a book, I’m making a mess on my dining room table!”
Since her move to the First State, De Jesus has immersed herself deeply into Delaware’s literary scene. “I’ve always felt welcomed and accepted here,” finding like-minded people and an outlet for her gifts and energy. It’s challenging to balance a day job while battling chronic depression and anxiety, and the pandemic added additional roadblocks – no workshops, artist meet-ups, or creative energy from peers – so connecting online became a lifeline.
At a new point in her work, DeJesus is now “writing stories about people like me who have gone through . . . the complex issues that life throws our way.” She is grateful for the feedback she receives from readers and those who attend her workshops, feeling that “I’ve done some of my best writing over the past couple of years.”
For DeJesus, “the Fellowship means more than anyone will ever know. This is validation for me.” It puts into positive perspective the sacrifices she and her family made coming to America and everything she has accomplished. “The week I received the email from the DDOA, I was seriously considering whether to continue writing professionally.” But the Division’s Emerging Writer award will motivate her to keep telling the stories she hopes will touch those who read them.Fellowship Home