Writing is a talent that I developed later in life. It is something that comes easily for me. Unlike others who struggle to find something to write about, I only struggle to figure out which of the many subjects that flow through my brain I will finally decide is the right one each week.

Many people who write call themselves “writers.” But to really be validated as a writer, you have to be judged by your peers – those folks who, day in and day out, take pen to paper or keystroke to computer screen and turn a jumble of words into meaning. This year, my peers awarded this column an Illinois Press Association award for the second time. It was an extreme honor, especially taking first place. That award helps to motivate me to do even better with every word I write.

Two years ago, I completed what I call my biggest writing assignment to date. That was the completion and publication of my first novel, Billion Dollar Winner. When I wrote that book, I had no idea how one should go about writing a book. I just knew that I had a story to tell. I wanted to highlight the West Side and write about storylines that people were familiar with. I wanted to add to the face of urban literature with stories that didn’t focus on gangbanging, drug dealing and baby mama drama. I wanted to write a book that people, once they started reading it, would find difficult to put down. I did all of that and more with my book.

Billion Dollar Winner tells the story of my main character, Valencia Banks Freeman, a community activist who has spent her entire adult life protesting lottery games. The state of Illinois joins in with the other states to form a nationwide lottery; the prize grows to one billion dollars, and my character comes to possess that winning ticket even though she has never bought a lottery ticket in her life. Those who have read my book will quickly tell you that the lottery is merely the plot device by which my character gets her money. It’s what she does with the money that readers have praised.

The latest accolade came a couple of weeks ago. The African American Art Alliance of Chicago held their Black Excellence Award ceremony at the DuSable Museum. My novel was nominated for the Outstanding Achievement in Literature – Fiction Award. Three books were nominated and I won. Thank you, African American Art Alliance of Chicago for considering the work of a first-time author and then awarding me your top honor.

And speaking of the arts, I had the opportunity last weekend to attend the opening of the play Flow at Westinghouse High School. CPS and ETA Creative Art Theatre have joined forces to bring live theater to the West Side. The play is a look at black communities through the eyes of those who exist in it. I enjoyed watching the actors as they became the various characters represented in the play.

The admission price is what one would pay for a movie ticket: a mere $10. Flow is playing this Friday at 7 p.m. and Saturday at 2 p.m. Doors open one hour in advance before each performance and tickets can be purchased at the door. Call 773-534-6400 or 773-752-3955 for more information.

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