Sarah Stevenson: Exploring the complexities of young adulthood through fiction, humor and culture

BY MELISSA HUTSELL

Sarah Stevenson is an artist of all sorts. Graphic design, fine art and fiction are her fortes. Her young adult novels have captured the attention of audiences nationwide.

Stevenson grew up in Riverside, California before making her way north to attend University of California, Berkeley. While studying Art Practice and Psychology, she met her future husband, and together, they moved to the Central Valley where Stevenson rediscovered her love of writing.

“I had always enjoyed writing, and I had always done a lot of creative writing on my own — stories and poetry and a few abandoned beginnings of novels — but ever since I was a kid I wanted to be a visual artist of some kind,” said Stevenson.

She knew she was bound for a creative career, but like most artists, struggled to find her direction after graduation, “because the options for fine artists are pretty limited, at least if you want to live indoors and eat,” she explained.

So, Stevenson went to work for IGN.com, an internet-based game and entertainment media company. Here, she found her knack for imaginative storytelling while writing for the company’s humor columns,” IGN For Men,” “Weird Wild Web” and “Quote of the Day.”

In order to be certain, as Stevenson explains, she enrolled in an online fiction writing course (where she began writing what would later be her third published novel, “The Truth Against the World”). She became hooked. In 2004, Stevenson completed her Masters in Fine Arts in Creative Writing and was awarded the Haworth Prize for Young Adult Fiction by Mills College in Oakland.

The first of her three young adult novels, “The Latte Rebellion,” was released in 2011, followed by “Underneath,” and “The Truth Against The World.” “It is about students of mixed race/mixed ethnicity who decide to form a club for other students like them and sell T-shirts as a money-making scheme. But the scheme careens hilariously out of control,” she described. “As someone of mixed heritage myself, I noticed there weren’t many books written about characters dealing with the unique set of issues that come up when you have a family that brings together races and/or cultures.” Through her fictional novels, poems and short stories, Stevenson focuses on self-exploration, personal growth, tension and humor. “Culture is a big element for me, whether it takes center stage or remains in the background.”

She also finds inspiration in her home, Modesto.

“I’ve written a few poems about living in the Central Valley, at least one short story — which was turned into a collaborative book with my husband Rob, and exhibited at the MJC Gallery — and it has indirectly influenced some of the settings in my YA novels.”

Her work continues to earn her recognition nationwide, including the bronze medal for multicultural children’s fiction from the Independent Publisher Magazine. In addition, Stevenson has accomplished a lifelong dream: being on NPR’s Capital Public Radio’s “Insight,” and the widely syndicated program, “Tell Me More,” with Michel Martin.

However, the best compliment she has received so far was given to her by a student at Balboa High School in San Francisco: “A girl of mixed ethnicity who had read ‘The Latte Rebellion’ … said ‘Thank you for writing this book. I feel like you wrote it for me.’ Moments like that make all the hard work worthwhile. Getting to write stories for a living isn’t too shabby either.”

For more information about Sarah including blog posts and appearances, visit SarahJamilaStevenson.com

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