GWENDOLYN ZEPEDA was born in Houston, in 1971, to a Chicano father and German/Welsh/Scottish mother. When she was four, her mother was diagnosed with schizophrenia and institutionalized, leaving her father to raise her and her brothers with his extended family in the Sixth Ward, which was a low-income, mostly Mexican neighborhood at the time.
Although sometimes rejected by her mainly Hispanic classmates because of her fair skin, Zepeda learned a deep appreciation for her Chicana heritage (plus an early love of reading) from her father’s family. Watching friends and relatives fall prey to the pitfalls of inner-city poverty, she managed to spend her teen years focused on art. She sang, danced, and acted at Multicultural Education and Counseling through the Arts (MECA), an organization for at-risk youth, and studied visual art at the Glassell school. She wrote poems and short stories at school, at home, or wherever she found unattended typewriters. MECA mentors encouraged her to apply to the University of Texas, where she was awarded a full scholarship and majored in English.
Zepeda might have been the first person in her father’s family to earn a bachelor’s degree had she not dropped out in order to raise an impromptu family. Finding herself transformed to a housewife in a trailer, in an isolated corner of the Texas Hill Country, Zepeda made friends through the Internet. She taught herself HTML and created her own website, becoming the first Latina blogger. Her writing earned Internet awards and freelance gigs, such as founding staff writer for the first and longest running TV recap site, Television without Pity. This led Zepeda to believe that, despite her atypical start, she might one day achieve her dream of becoming a published author.
Ten years after leaving, Zepeda returned to Houston with her three children and struggled to gain a foothold in the workforce as a newly single mom. She dealt with stress as she always had–by creating art. Late at night and in temp-agency waiting rooms, she slowly completed the short-story collection that would eventually be published by Arte Público Press in 2004, called To the Last Man I Slept with and All the Other Jerks Just like Him.
Now Zepeda is reaping the rewards of her hard work. After that first collection, she went on the publish three novels with Hachette and five children’s books and two volumes of poetry through Arte Público Press. Her books are well reviewed, and five have earned literary awards. As a popular speaker for universities, conferences, and organizations, she enjoys giving back to her community by conducting workshops for underserved populations and at-risk youth. Her most recent poetry book, Monsters, Zombies and Addicts: Poems, was published March 31, 2015 by Arte Público Press.
In 2013, Zepeda was chosen by Mayor Annise Parker to be Houston’s first poet laureate. She lives in Houston with her husband, children and pets, and she continues to write.