Meet Q3 Creative Nonfiction Essay Contest Runner Up Jennifer Juniper

Sunday, September 25, 2022


Jennifer Juniper’s love of travel mixes well with her uncontrollable curiosity and often leads to adventure and intrigue. With life as her muse, she stays busy chronicling connections and inspiring interactions. An excerpt titled “The Fish Doctor” from her upcoming memoir was recently published. Her poetry is featured in But You Don’t Look Sick: The Real Life Adventures of Fibro Bitches, Lupus Warriors, and other Superheroes Battling Invisible Illness. Her essay made it into Decimos: We Say. She is an award-winning poet currently living on the road with a kitty she was only supposed to foster, splitting her time between here, there and everywhere while working on her memoir, Gut Instincts. She blogs at and tries to stay up on Twitter @JenJuniperM. 

Read Jennifer's moving essay here and then return to learn more about the author. 

----------Interview by Renee Roberson 

WOW: Congratulations, Jennifer, and welcome! Your essay about your relationship with your father is very touching. How has writing helped you explore the details (good and bad) that may have remained buried within your psyche had you not put them on paper? 

Jennifer: Thank you for feeling it with me. It’s why I write—to feel something and help others feel something. Writing has always been how I process life. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been using words, both reading and writing, to help me find a solid place within myself. Writing makes it all stand still for a moment, where I can see it. Hold it. Let it do with me what it will, within the safety of the page. I use the power of the pen to get those buried treasures out of me and bring them to the light. I love seeing what pours out of me given the quiet opportunity to discover. All we need is within us—writing is one of the ways I find it. People, places and things written down become immortal. We can transcend time. I get to revisit, relive all those moments again. This piece about my father and me, it puts us in one place where I can find him again. Dance with him again, see him hand me an ice cream cone again, fall back on his advice. 

WOW: On your blog you wrote about how the first two times you submitted to this writing contest you didn’t advance to the finals. What advice would you give to anyone who is hesitant about submitting their work to writing contests? 

Jennifer: Write for the sake of writing. Write because you can, because you have something to say and what you say matters. Make art–literary art. Aren’t we lucky to be creative types? Unbound by what is, able to angle ourselves into our own designs. Everytime I write, I get better. I’ve come to see it beyond the labels of good and bad, but as a person learning guitar approaches an instrument. To learn. I’m practicing my craft, and you get better at what you practice. I always pay extra for the feedback and it’s always helpful in addition to being super encouraging. Contests offer discipline. They give structure and a deadline, prompting you to stay with a piece through completion—all good things for us writers. I find there’s a certain intrinsic prize once I hit the Send button. I didn’t let my fears stop me. I created something to share with the world. I was vulnerable. And I often tell myself, I can’t be the only one feeling and thinking this. Maybe someone will find company in my piece. I take solace in Stephen King’s "On Writing" where he talks about being a kid, putting a nail in the rafter above the desk in his bedroom. He stabbed his rejection letters onto it. And when it got full, he had to put in a second, bigger nail. So, I figure I’m in pretty good company when I don’t get chosen. A record label turned down Prince. Chicken Soup for the Soul got passed on heaps of times. Anyways, if I really want to keep an authentic voice, I need to write without wondering what will come of it. How high it will climb in the world. Once I saw Eric Clapton perform his song "Tears In Heaven" live, to loud applause. He told us he’d written the song to deal with his own grief. “That you all happened to like it, too was a bonus."     

WOW: Your memoir, “Gut Instincts,” chronicles your health journey with Crohn’s Disease. What do you hope readers will take away from your book? 

Jennifer: To see it not as a How-To book, but a Now-You book. I want them to be inspired to listen to their bodies and love themselves well. A disease has symptoms and also is a symptom of our whole life and our whole being. Go beyond the limitations of modern medicine, take back their power and tap into their own self-induced healing mechanism. An understanding that without the mind, the body can’t heal. And everything can heal. Everything. Chronic illness is wrought with shame and isolation, I want to alleviate that. Obliterate it. I hope they find a hand to hold inside my pages. I hope they reach out and ask me for more than that, if needed. 

WOW: I love this! Thank you for shining a light on the emotional struggles people with chronic illness face alongside the physical symptoms.  Speaking of writing nonfiction, are there any memoirs you’ve read recently that you would recommend to our readers? 

Jennifer: Mary Karr’s "Lit."  She drills down deep, puts me right there with her, and her style makes me read sentences over and over again, in awe. I’m a better writer for having read her. And she’s snarky, with a self-deprecating wit, which I love and relate to. 

WOW: Thank you for that recommendation! You are currently living on the road as you complete the memoir. What has the experience been like for you and would you recommend it to fellow writers if they have the chance to do it? 

Jennifer: Travel is magical–I highly recommend it. I just got back from a trip and can’t keep up with my muse! Movement and newness are so good for me and my creativity. I’m my best self on the road, because I can be whoever I want, unencumbered by the mundane. There’s a suspension of self, like being in a new place makes me new, too. I’m not sure how it all works, but I’m definitely more likely to follow those nudges and tune into nuances when I travel. They take me to places I wouldn’t have found otherwise. They seem to know better than I do.

WOW: Jennifer, thank you again for spending time with us today! Keep us posted on your writing projects--you're an inspiration.


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