Tatiana Olivera is an English student at CSU Stanislaus. This year, her piece “Just Believe” won the WRHC nonfiction award. To get to know our award winning author, I interviewed her about her story and her creative process.

What encouraged you to submit this piece to Scribendi?
I have submitted to Scribendi in the past and wanted to do so again this year. However, I wanted to try out creative nonfiction instead of poetry this time.

What does the WRHC award mean to you?
The WRHC award means so much to me. Yes, I do need the money for school materials, so it is very helpful in that regard. However, what was even more meaningful to me was the fact that my piece was chosen out of many others that were submitted. As someone who has frequently been told that being a writer is not the best career choice, this award is a validation to me. It shows that I have grown as a writer and that my writing can make an impact on other people.

Was this memoir style of writing familiar to you or were you trying this personal voice as a new experience?
I typically write poetry and fiction, so the memoir style is very new to me. One of my goals in life is to record the lives of others, especially those in my family, so I know that I have always wanted to write in this style but didn’t know how to do so. Then one day my mother and my nana revealed a part of their past to me. It was like finding a treasure chest at the bottom of the ocean. I’d been searching around the seabed trying to figure out what I was supposed to be doing, and suddenly I had struck gold. This history was coupled with religion and superstition, and this helped me learn more about my culture. I knew I had to record it somehow, so as soon as I got home that night, I typed up “Just Believe.” It was mostly for my own personal record and partly for Scribendi since I knew it was taking submissions at the time.

What kind of impact has your family’s ethnic heritage had on your artistic or creative endeavors, if any?
As I mentioned, one of my goals is to write about my family’s history. Their lives, including the cultural traditions that shape their lives, are important to me, and I want to dissect this history, tradition, and culture to better understand myself and where I come from. Another one of my goals is to write about Assyrians in general. There aren’t many of us left—only two million total in the world—so I want to be the voice that speaks up for us. We go largely unnoticed; people typically have no idea what I’m talking about when I say that I am Assyrian. That is why I want to spread awareness of my culture and its traditions and beliefs, and I feel that the best way for me to do so is through writing.

How has “just believing” had an impact on your battle against cancer?
When it comes to cancer, or any illness for that matter, the main thing is to maintain a positive mindset. When the doctor told my mother and me that I had cancer, she broke down at the horrible news. Meanwhile, I was smiling. I had already come to terms with my illness, and I truly did believe that I would be okay. It has almost been a year since hearing that news, and so far I am doing just fine. I feel very blessed and thankful that I am alright, and I feel that a positive attitude and a belief that I could get through this kept me afloat through these darker times. If anyone is going through something similar, my main advice for them would definitely be to “just believe.” Just believe that everything will be okay, and this will help bring about a sense of peace and happiness, which is key to being a healthy person.

If you could give potential contributors a piece of advice, what would it be?
My piece of advice to other contributors would be this: Look at the works that have been published in order to give you a good idea of the level of writing you should strive for. Let these other works inspire you. I read the works from Scribendi 2015, and it lit a fire in my belly. There is no better motivation than reading and admiring others’ works. Let this motivation strike a passion within you, and let that passion flow out of you, whether it be through the pen or through the lens. But above all else, stay true to yourself when creating art.