Life doesn’t always work out as planned, particularly in Stephanie Elizondo Griest’s life. Stephanie was inspired to become a journalist when she heard CNN Foreign Correspondent, Charles Bierbauer, address a conference when she was 16 years old and editor of her high school yearbook. “I was so taken by his talk and his life,” she says, “I asked him what I needed to do to be just like him. He said ‘Learn Russian,’ and I did.”
Beginning as a summer intern with the Washington Post in 1995, Stephanie continues as a freelance writer and journalist for diverse publications, including Texas Monthly Magazine, Poets & Writers Magazine, Latina Magazine, and USA Weekend, among others. However, she has found it increasingly difficult to earn a living in the field. “As internet-based technologies have enabled the explosion of user-generated content, journalism is in peril,” Stephanie says, “and I think it’s a civil rights issue, a human rights issue. If we lose objective reporting, who else will hold wrong-doers accountable?”
To expand her skill set, Stephanie decided to write about her travels, publishing her first book, Around the Bloc: My Life in Moscow, Beijing, and Cuba, in 2004. Her next book, 100 Places Every Woman Should Go (2007), was written when she was a Hodder Fellow at Princeton University, and it won the Gold Prize for Best Travel Book of 2007 by the Society of American Travel Writers Foundation's Lowell Thomas Travel Journalism Competition, as well as "Best Travel Book" in the 2008 International Latino Book Awards. Her third book, Mexican Enough: My Life Between the Borderlines (2008) was awarded the PEN Southwest Best Nonfiction Book Award. All of her books have won critical praise.
Stephanie was raised in Corpus Christi, Texas, where her mother’s family had come from Mexico as vaqueros, working on the legendary 825,000 acre King Ranch. Her father, of Pennsylvania Dutch ancestry, was a drummer in the U.S. Navy Band, performing all over the world. “That’s where my love of travel and storytelling came from,” says Stephanie. “My family’s stories opened the world up for me.”
Her wanderlust has taken her around the world and, in 2000, to undertake, along with nine other Americans, a year-long, 45,000 mile trek across the country to document via interviews and video footage the history of the U.S. entitled The Odyssey: US Trek. In addition to extensive book tours, Stephanie travels to high schools, community centers, and schools to give motivational lectures, writing workshops, and talks on diversity and immigration issues.
A passionate activist, Stephanie co-founded the Youth Free Expression Network, an anti-censorship organization for teens, a program of the National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC) in New York City, for which she also serves on the board.
Stephanie is undertaking a third career change as she refocuses her writing toward academia. Since graduating in 1997 with honors and receiving dual degrees—a B.J. in Magazine Journalism and a B.A. in Post-Soviet and East European Studies—from the University of Texas, Austin—with the “indispensable financial assistance from the Hispanic Scholarship Fund”—she is now working on her MFA degree from the Nonfiction Writing Program at The University of Iowa.
“Who knew that my chosen careers, journalism and publishing, would undergo such transformation in my lifetime,” Stephanie says. “But I wouldn’t change a thing. As a travel writer colleague once told me: ‘I can’t make a living, but what a heck of a life I live.’ I couldn’t be happier.”