Ed. Note: This review comes from Story Sprouts Caitlin Hernandez. Caitlin attended the Story Sprouts Writing Day Marathon in 2015. You may recognize her talent from reading her Titanic scene in our Kayla Wayman collaborative novel. She will also appear in the forthcoming resource and anthology, Story Sprouts: Setting.
Caitlin is a published writer, a teacher, an advocate, an activist, a singer, an actress, and an all-around incredible person. She wrote this review in 2015. Since then, she has finished grad school and is now a full-time teacher. She has given us permission to share her thoughts.
We are so thankful to Caitlin for her kind review, and look forward to the day she attends her next Writing Day Marathon. Caitlin lives in the Bay Area. Likely obvious in the review, but possibly worth noting: Caitlin is blind.
Story Sprouts Review
by Caitlin Hernandez
Though I've always loved to read and write, my path to literature has never been a typical one. When I was growing up, producing Braille was so costly and time-consuming, and required so much expertise, that professionals were quick to advocate audiobooks instead.
I fell in love with Braille at three years old and mastered its myriad of rules and shortcuts by six. Though I loved being read to, I longed, constantly, to hear characters' voices in my head as the story took shape beneath my fingertips. Try though my parents and teachers indisputably did, I never had enough Braille books to keep me happy.
These days, as I work towards my masters degree in special education, I'm able to write essays, read textbooks, and download assignments, supplemental materials, and novels with my Braille notetaker. But though translating between Braille and print is simple, low-quality scans, cluttered, image-heavy page layouts, and professors' busy schedules often mean that having Braille on hand at all times isn't always possible. In a pinch, I grudgingly fall back on the standbys of my school days: asking classmates to read the board and explain charts, taking notes on oral presentations rather than muddling through the PowerPoints, and, essentially, listening more than reading.
* * *
In the summer of 2013, CRE Outreach, a Los Angeles nonprofit which hosts the only all-blind acting troupe in the country, produced a short musical for which I wrote story, script, music, and lyrics. Bryan Caldwell, one of CRE's founding board members, not only acted alongside me in the show as my character's father, but found in me a kindred writer spirit. One day, before a rehearsal, he handed me a draft of his middle-grade novel on a thumb drive, so I could translate it into Braille. When I returned home to northern California after the musical closed, I recorded myself reading my latest middle-grade novel, so he could listen while he commuted to work. He and I called and texted constantly, sharing comments, critiques, and general excitement about one another's progress. I'd never known anyone who wrote young-adult and middle-grade prose as enthusiastically and copiously as I did, whose narration and voice already had the honest authenticity I was striving to create in my own characters.
Bryan attended Story Sprouts in 2014 and encouraged me to come to L.A. for the 2015 session. The conference itself exceeded my already-high expectations. Though I'm always more than happy to answer people's questions about Braille, blindness, and how I do things, I was delighted, that day, to simply be one writer among many. My handouts—every single one of them—had been meticulously organized on a thumb drive beforehand by Alana and Nutschell. Thus, I was easily able to follow along with everything, from lectures to written examples to the activities themselves. Bryan, always an intuitive, inconspicuous ally, sat beside me in case I ran into trouble. None of the others knew me, but everyone warmly and readily welcomed my contributions to the collective. Alana and Nutschell had even added a special, sensory-centered aspect to our final activity in my honor.
When the long, pleasantly exhausting day of writing drew to a close, I realized that I'd never before experienced an event quite like this one. Everything had run smoothly. My access needs had been met completely and graciously, and with much more sensitivity and attention to detail than I was used to. The other writers had all been kind, understanding, and unfazed by my blindness. Perhaps most importantly, rather than spending all my energy fighting to be included, I, like my sighted peers, had simply been able to sit back, learn, and enjoy.