Congratulations to Cherilyn Jose for Winning the August 2018 Barefoot Writing Challenge! (Your $100 prize is on its way!)

The challenge was to write an essay in response to this prompt:

Describe one thing about you that makes you authentically unique.

The story of how Cherilyn found her authentic writing voice is one in a million. Enjoy her winning submission:

My ability to empathize with animals is unique. There are a lot of animal lovers in the world, but not many have found that their authentic voice is an animal’s. I found my writing voice by “becoming” an animal and writing from its point of view. The animals I write about have thoughts and feelings, but otherwise aren’t overly anthropomorphized.

I started my blog Ocean of Hope: Marine Animals Voice Their Wishes on Ocean Conservation Issues by writing about the state of the world’s oceans from the viewpoint of Ollie the Octopus. He talks about pollution, overfishing, and climate change issues such as ocean acidification and the rise in sea levels. I took the picture that inspired the voice of Ollie when I was a professional aquarist, and it is my calling card across all social media.

I continue to write from an ocean animal’s point of view on my blog. I’ve written as a 200-year-old bowhead whale, the type of whale that lives longer than any other. My post “Journey of One Drop of Water,” about a drop of water’s journey through the water cycle, was awarded first place in a literary contest.

Manta rays have the biggest brain-to-body ratio of any fish. Did you know manta rays might be able to recognize themselves in a mirror? Primates, dolphins, and elephants are other animals that have mirror recognition. “My Manta Ray Encounter” also won a literary award and was about my scuba diving experience with them off the Hawaiian coast.

Even when not writing as an animal, I touch people with my past connections with animals. Many people have cried after reading my post about holding a days-old orphaned sea otter pup in the palm of my hand. The spiritual feeling I felt with all living creatures at that moment is bested only by the birth of my children as the most amazing experience of my life.

I also write children’s books from an animal’s point of view, though they haven’t been published yet. I read my stories to a classroom full of children every week when I volunteer at my kid’s school.

I have found my unique voice, and I speak for the animals that cannot speak for themselves.