Creator Spotlight: 2021

From fiction-writing world creators to visual artists, entrepreneurs, poets, and more, we've sure got a lot of spotlighted creators to recap this year. Join us in celebrating their unique minds and creative visions.

By Vocal SpotlightPublished 2 years ago Updated 2 years ago 22 min read

Let's leave the obvious right where it is and talk about what 2021 wasn't. It wasn't a year shy of creativity; Suri Chan integrated her artwork into her poetry—creating a new layer of depth to her already-intriguing prose. No, it wasn't a year of missed opportunities; Call Me Les broadened resources and opportunities for engaged creators by founding The Vocal Social Society and the Vocal Creators Chronicle. 2021 wasn't a year when hidden gems remained unseen; the work of CJ Miller finally received the attention it deserved. It wasn't a year we took too seriously; Lindsay Rae Brown offered a lighter side to life with every story she shared. Though, it wasn't a year without legacy; Tom Bradbury left a legacy that will forever inspire creators in the Vocal community. It wasn't a year we took on alone; Culture Slate and People! Just say Something! exemplified the effectiveness of true collaborative efforts.

Here, in the twenty-fifth bi-weekly #VocalSpotlight of 2021, we're eager to recap the twenty-four brightest squares on our yearly calendars here at Vocal. While the year is about to start anew, we won't soon forget about these twenty-four brilliant creators.

Our voice is our future. Here are twenty-four moments that will echo and influence the voices heard in 2022.

1. Emmy-winning makeup artist Andrew Sotomayor spoke up for Trans and LGBTQ representation

On Big Beauty Initiatives and LGBTQ Representation:

Single women, people of color, young people, and LGBTQ people make up 65.5% of the voting population in America. We’re also the same group of people who make up the beauty industry. We’ve also been told throughout history that we should be quiet, be cute, and accept whatever the people in power give us. I don’t agree. My mother who was the first woman in her family to go to college, also does not agree. We are powerful. We generate other people’s wealth, and we need to demand better.

A lot of brands are finally making lots of shades to cater to women of all skin tones, but that’s not empowerment. That’s just good business! I don’t work for either company, but I scoured the internet for examples of Maybelline and L’Oreal contributing to LGBTQ causes. In summer of 2020, all I found was a rainbow around the Maybelline “Pride” collection on Amazon. I just thought, a year before this, someone from your brand reached out to me asking to refer trans women for unpaid work for social media, for their “Pride” campaign. I just thought, “You don’t know anything about our community, but you know that you want our LGBTQ dollars. How are we supposed to feel proud about that?”

They’ve done some better things since then, but all your customers should matter. Not just the ones who have a big following and call you out on social media, not just the ones who pass as cis-gender, and not just the ones who fit a narrow definition of beauty. Using queer people to do makeup tutorials on Instagram is again, just good marketing, not standing up for our human rights. The fact remains that when your parent company is the largest beauty conglomerate in the world, bringing in $29 billion a year, you can afford to pay Black Trans women, the most underemployed and most at-risk community in America. When they asked me for unpaid referrals, I told them no, but to this day I still feel gross.

2. Climate activist and photographer Angelica Pasquali advocated for a greener future

On Misconceptions and Actionable First Steps Toward Sustainability:

Sustainability being an overwhelming, expensive major lifestyle change is a huge misconception. I’ve found that since taking steps to a more sustainable lifestyle, I have saved money and my daily routines have become a lot easier.

Imagine not having to run to the store for razors every month? Imagine not having to buy feminine products every month? Heck, imagine never buying paper towels, lugging heavy laundry detergent containers, and even worrying less about what toxins are in your everyday items.

My advice is to simply take the first step. One sustainable swap/switch. The easy ones are: a reusable insulated tumbler, a safety razor, a bar of soap, a to-go cutlery set, or even just a simple canvas tote bag. Make one little change in your lifestyle and watch how you start naturally brainstorming how other aspects can be more sustainable. It’s not about being perfect and producing zero waste, it’s about simply trying to do your best.

3. "Plantrepreneur" Farmer Nick enlightened us with his life lessons learned through nature

On What Tending to Plants Teaches Him Personally:

The parallels are endless. More than anything, nature and my relationship with my plants has taught me patience.

In this fast-paced, social-media driven world, plants have helped me slow down and appreciate the imperfections. Nature isn't perfect, and it certainly can be slow, but you can find tremendous beauty in the process; trusting that your efforts will lead to new growth opportunities.

4. Rising star RJ suggested a new way to earn as a writer

On Her Experience With Vocal Challenges:

I see creators who bare their soul in their work and see nothing from it. While others lean into what’s trendy and easy to gain reads on. If they love to write about the current trends then I’m not knocking them. I didn’t want to write about something I didn’t love for the reads and fame.

Before winning a challenge I thought chasing reads through SEO tactics was the absolute only way to make it. Moreover, I thought no one would care to read a well written article unless it was in the Times. Winning a challenge has given me the confidence and peace of mind to pursue other art.

5. Videographer and actress Natalie Spack revealed the measurable value of authentic content

On Vocal and Cross-Platform Growth:

I don’t think one needs a niche to succeed on Vocal. Because Vocal has many communities on its platform and the challenges are always on different subjects, my writing has expanded. It has also been cool to see readers from Vocal support me on my YouTube channel and other social media pages.

The more stories I publish, the more I realize that people appreciate honesty. The more vulnerable I am when I write, the more people can connect.

For example, in my comedic writing, when the sketch is close to something I’ve actually experienced, it becomes funnier because people can relate. I love when people comment on my videos and writings, “This happened to me!” I believe we as humans encounter similar embarrassing and hard situations.

I enjoy creating pieces with which people can identify. I used to use more generalizations in my writings because it can be scary to feel exposed. But as I become more bare in my writings and share more personal experiences, the stories are better received!

6. Entrepreneur and author Bianca Best inspired us to realize our full potential

On Her Entrepreneurial Endeavors:

I describe myself as an ‘accidental entrepreneur’. My first tech business was born in 2004 as I created an online platform connecting retailers with consumers and manufacturers enabling truly personalised gift giving for the first time. It was an incredible decade of experimentation and fun (not to mention having 4 kids along the way too!).

Right now I run 3 businesses: a digital transformation consultancy for the world’s largest media agency within the WPP group, a location business hiring out my home and grounds for events and filming, and my absolute passion, my coaching business where I guide talented, impassioned individuals to flourish, whether early talent seeking their first role, bankrupt entrepreneurs or ambitious women and men, I help stimulate the decision making to change destiny for the better.

I’m also writing my third book, The Divorce Decision—empowering women to step into integrity with grace as they make the biggest decision of their life.

7. Jess Sambuco won the Little Black Book challenge

On the Moment She Found Out That She Won:

I wish I could live it all over again! It was a very special moment and I still feel incredibly honored. It actually took me about 30 minutes to realize I won. I couldn’t believe it. I was looking at my emails on my phone and then quickly rushed to my computer. I muttered “wow” to myself about 50 times before I could speak, then I started shaking. My boyfriend was watching me the whole time and I’m pretty sure he thought something terrible happened.

I hadn’t told anyone I entered the competition, so there was a lot of explaining to do. I called my family. I talked to each of my parents separately and they both thought I was joking. My sister started screaming. My favorite phone call was to my grandma, who is one of my best friends. She started crying and then whispered, “Can I tell all my friends?”

8. Critical thinker Laquesha Bailey proposed the benefit of considering opposing worldviews

On What Inspires Her to Create:

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe was once assigned in my English Literature class and is, to this day, one of my favourite books I've ever read. The novel is riveting because it covers the changes to an Igbo Tribe with the arrival of European missionaries who essentially colonize and destroy the rituals and practices of the tribe. Through the eyes of the Igbo protagonist, Okonkwo, we can see and feel the devastating impact of this loss and understand the richness and vitality of this lost culture. This book is an antithesis to Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, which deals with precisely the same theme but through opposing eyes and paints African tribe members as savage, uncivilized and unworthy of human dignity and consideration. I think the contrastive nature of these two novels proves that everyone has a story to tell, and depending on your vantage point, that story, even when covering the same material, can look very different.

My desire to share my viewpoint on a variety of topics compels me to write. I write because I feel that I have something to say. Even if that something is starkly different from someone else's opinion, I think both points of view are necessary and worthy, if a bit disagreeable.

9. Quirky writing collective People! Just say Something! just said something

On Creating in a Collaborative Project:

David: As writers, there are times when you will not know how to move on with a project. Working together gives our work a second pair of eyes. I trust Atlas’ judgement and take her advice on board. There are always mistakes that I will miss or minor changes that improve the work drastically. Whenever morale falls, we motivate each other to meet deadlines and keep our high work ethic. There is no work when you dedicate your time to the things you love with the people you love.

Atlas: There’s always a fresh perspective to take a look at the word document that the other has been staring at for the last four hours. We motivate each other to do better and work harder, and I believe that David brings the best out of me, not only in my writing and artwork, but he brings the best out of me as a person.

10. Film critic Sean Patrick found new value in revisiting old opinions

On Changing Opinions After Writing a Critique:

I actually wrote about the experience of changing my opinion on a movie here on Vocal. When "Dirty Dancing" hit it’s 30th Anniversary, I looked back at what I wrote about Dirty Dancing in 2002 and the review I wrote in 2017 and how my opinion was so different. The piece was called “Movies Don’t Change, You Do.”

As a better, more thoughtful and mature critic, I watched "Dirty Dancing" again and it came to life to me in a whole new way. There was so much there that I didn’t understand before. That movie captured a moment of transition in American culture in a way that few other movies ever have. The shift from the values of the 1950s to the values of the 1960s and then, if you really examine it, the movie is also about how the values of the 60s changed into the 1980s and how the idealism of the 60s seemed to fail into the cynicism and divisiveness of the 80s. "Dirty Dancing" went from being a movie that I hated to a movie I admire more every time I think about it.

11. Comedic writer Lindsay Rae Brown pushed us to be more accepting of our natural selves

On Her Transparent Writing Style:

I think in my writing specifically, I wouldn’t be where I am without transparency. My entire goal with these stories I sling is to let my readers know that we’re all in this being-a-human-thing together. We’ve all had awkward sexual experiences. We’ve all made fools of ourselves at the most inopportune times. We’ve all accidentally proclaimed to our crush, “I love you!” When really we were just trying to say, “I love those shoes. Are they new?” We’ve all been there!

And really, if we can’t laugh at our humanness, what can we laugh at?

I’ve always known I wanted to write humour. So then the question was, on what topic? I’m woefully uninformed about most politics and, well, a lot of other issues, so intellectual satire was out. I sure as heck didn’t want to poke fun at anyone else’s expense. So really, that just left me and my awkward existence to shape my stories around.

When I receive comments telling me that one of my stories gave someone the laugh they needed or that they could relate to it in a big way, I get this super sexy tingling all over my body (just go with it, okay). The tingling tells me that I’m doing something right. That I’ve connected with another human being. And that’s the goal. I’d even go as far to say that’s a long-term goal. See, I’m growing as an individual!

12. Poet and artist Suri Chan opened up about the lesser-known aspects of the LGBTQIA+ experience

On Advice to LGBTQIA+ Writers, Poets, and Artists:

Don’t be afraid to talk about the distasteful/embarrassing/harsh parts of the LGBT experience.

I think our culture often romanticises what it means to be LGBT, especially when it comes to queer women.

When I came out to my straight co-worker, her first reaction was ‘’wow exciting! What a beautiful journey!’’

And while it has been, in many ways, a beautiful journey, it has also been a deeply painful and confusing one, lined with a lot of shit on the way.

YES, being gay is beautiful (and we sure as hell should shout that from the rooftops), but at the same time, we as creators, should be honest about the full spectrum of the experience.

For example, I just wrote a sci-fi poem about a town of gay people who ‘opt out of being gay’ via a surgical procedure. This is a topic a lot of queer people would relate to — at least in their baby gay days — but it isn’t something people talk about because in our culture, it’s taboo to admit to wanting to change yourself, even though it’s a common part of the early LGBT experience.

Sidenote: don’t worry. The poem ends on a positive note – authenticity and self-love win!

But again, don’t be afraid to create art about the full LGBT experience — even the ugly parts!

13. Queer writer Joe Shetina won the Pride Playlist challenge

On Their Challenge-Winning Story, “Playlist: The Six Pillars of Queer Emotion”:

I love making playlists and tailoring them to a specific aesthetic, mood, or place. When I’m writing a longer fiction piece, I generally have an entire collection of playlists dedicated to it. However, Vocal’s playlist challenges often elude me. I always feel out of my depth. Coming up with a hook that would make sense to a casual reader is difficult.

The Pride Playlist Challenge was serendipitous. I have several playlists dedicated to LGBTQIA+ identity. There are certain songs that I associate with certain emotions, and these tracks have the ability to take me on a very clear, intense emotional journey. I thought of how these emotions align with so much of queer experience. Longing, euphoria, etc. etc. These are not exclusive to queer people, but I think it is easy for us to lean into strong emotions because of our experiences as outsiders. We know how to suffer glamorously. We party like no other. We know how to make something from nothing. Because we must.

By leaning into the emotions I use to create my playlists, I found my hook: a night out. One that ran the gamut of these “six pillars of queer emotion.” I collected several songs and categorized them. Once I had finished categorizing, I really didn’t have to do much work to make the pieces fit. The story came out of these songs.

14. Actor Marcel Grabowiecki found his identity through feeling like an outcast

On Dancing and Learning to Own Your Differences:

I learned to own my differences when I first started watching Glee as a teenager. That show forever changed me, and it motivated me in so many ways. Suddenly, in my mind, not belonging became the new belonging.

Modern dance classes are what kept me dancing all those years. Letting yourself go to the music I actually enjoyed, contemporary choreographies, and a completely different approach as opposed to ballet classes. There was and, for sure, still is a part of me that genuinely loves dancing, and I will forever deeply respect this profession. It takes a village.

15. Fashion and lifestyle illustrator Denise Elnajjar won the Members-Only challenge

On Writing "Armchair Traveling to Every Country Through Art":

I actually saw the challenge by periodically checking on the Challenges page on Vocal! I think so many of the challenges here—both fiction and non-fiction—are thought-provoking and fun, and I check them all the time. I saw the Members-Only challenge early on, and knew immediately I’d submit my idea to it! I wanted to take a little while to formulate my article and choose images to include in there as well. For my work and for this project in particular, the visual image is also the storyteller.

I submitted as soon as my article was ready and included all the points I wanted to make. All in all, it took a few days. I did tell some close friends about the idea beforehand. But I didn’t actually share the article until it was published! :)

I’m not going to lie, [when I found out I won] I cried (lol). I was a little in disbelief, so I took a few minutes to process the news. It felt incredibly humbling. The project is something I’d thought about for a while, and the whole idea was very special to me. So upon seeing this, I knew I had to begin work on it as soon as I could. But first, I had dinner!

16. The collective known as Culture Slate convinced us to take a leap of faith into our shared interests

On Advice and Expectations for Starting a Collective:

Creating as a team has its advantages because you are given more viewpoints, ideas, and reach than just working alone. Eventually, everything needs to be in a collective to share ideas, thoughts, and feelings.

Expect to lose a lot of sleep. Starting any venture is very hard, and I was definitely not prepared for the ups and downs of running my own business.

If I was to give one piece of advice, take the risk. Just do it. Especially if you are in your 20s. You don’t have much to lose and if you fail, you will have plenty of time to recover. It will be much harder when you are married and have children.

17. Fiction writer CJ Miller dissected the oft-overlooked intentions behind a narrative

On Considering Rhythm in Her Syntax:

I use rhythm to keep up momentum. I'm always driving at a conclusion and try not to meander. Keeping the language tight and on course helps me to do the same with the plot. I try really hard to vary my word choice within a story so that things don't get stale, and this awareness forces me to keep the beat in mind as I swap out terms.

I'm constantly reading my work aloud at a fast pace to see if it flows. If something trips me up, I change it. My goal is to make the reader's experience as painless as possible so that the message can be the star of the show.

Some stories need to be more lyrical than others to feel authentic. I tailor it to the MC's personality. In Illumination, Eugene was a writer himself, and so I felt I needed to step up my game! I intentionally filled the scenes from his youth with lyrical and vivid description because when you're young, everything hits harder and seems more important. As he matured, I tried to mellow him out a bit. That story was incredibly special to me.

18. Creator-for-creators Call Me Les offered a helping hand to the Vocal community

On What Drives Her to Be a Resource on Vocal:

I’m driven to give back. Pay it forward is a way of life for many Canadians, myself included. I feel I owe a debt of gratitude to both Vocal and the many friends I’ve met since becoming a member.

Recently, I went through a single oophorectomy and ovarian mass removal (I wrote about that in: How Shark Week Saved My Life). Recovering from that, both mentally and emotionally, is one of the most difficult obstacles I’ve ever faced. I found Vocal, and my social media family, a few weeks after I returned to work. “Return” meaning, at least I was able to sit in my home office for a few hours at a time, but with as many breaks as I needed (I honestly work for the most compassionate and understanding business I’ve ever encountered). Outside of work, I had nothing to do. I couldn’t socialize, the clients I was tutoring had outgrown me and I could feel depression edging in. What started out as an affordable, fun way to start writing short stories publicly, has turned into a community and the opportunity of a lifetime.

19. Poems by Kiesha let us know that we're not alone in our battles with mental illness

On the Theme of Mental Health in Her Poetry:

Mental health affects so many people, more recently as a society we are opening up more and seeking professional help. Personally, I suffer from depression and anxiety, which began at 12 years old. The doctors advised me to write a diary reflecting my moods.

I treat poetry as my own diary. Basing most of my poems on my thoughts and feelings greatly supports my mental health. Poetry helps me to really use my imagination when writing about my mental health. There is a constant theme of personifying depression and anxiety as a female person who lives inside of me.

20. The late writer Tom Bradbury left a platform-wide legacy that brought all creators together

On The Bond That Exists in the Vocal Community:

Les: Tom was many things to many people. While some Creators knew him very well, others were acquaintances—some even strangers. What I've read repeatedly in the Facebook comments is that the length of time interacting with him didn't determine if you felt moved by his presence. He was a born collector of the broken especially and tirelessly messaged people privately to encourage them or help them in some way.

The unifying factor is the Vocal community and its collective, diverse range of writers. Tom was one of us, and that definition alone is enough. When you belong, you belong. "Better Together" may be The Chronicle's official motto, but it extends to the Facebook Groups in general. It's not easy being a writer. You need each other. As Hemmingway so famously said:

"There is nothing to writing; all you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed."

Whether it’s advice, laughs, or tears, the social aspect of writing is as important as the words. After all, what is a story without an audience?

Judey: In a way, Tom was all of us, and in many ways he was the best of us. He had a hospitable nature, and thrived when surrounded by people with which he could swap stories. Those of us that became part of his band on Vocal are no different than his students, second-hand ‘pickers’, or pub cronies: we enjoyed being around a man that loved to tell and hear stories. Loved to exchange ideas. Loved to fall into new discoveries.

That we did it virtually and still mourn him is a testament to the power of transparent and true communication. Tom’s fellow Creators contributed to the second half of his memorial document.

Additionally, The Vocal Creator’s Chronicle has dedicated their most recent issue in Tom’s memory.

Arpad: The bond is because we take risks; because art is subjective and we don’t truly know if we are any good at what we want to share; because it’s brave and courageous to spill your art and creativity onto a page and cast out for the world to love, hate, or ignore. We, as writers, understand each other and the need within to express things; we understand we all have stories to tell; we understand that what we have and feel inside is as important, if not more important, than what we have to represent on the outside. We’re curious about each other; we want to be entertained, informed, moved and inspired. We love words, stories, and have empathy for the pain that life brings. We have joy for the beauty that life gives. We are invested in each other’s efforts.

21. Mixed media artist Casey Promise Thompson found the confidence to revisit old creative outlets

On Writing and Finding Vocal:

I think I always had a bit of a knack for writing. I realized I might have a talent for it when I was in middle school. However, those around me kept pointing me in the direction of Visual Arts. So, I followed that path and solely focused on drawing and painting.

Before I left art college, I very clearly remember the moment my English Professor pulled me aside after writing a few short stories and telling me that I should seriously consider taking up writing. Of course, I was mostly focused on getting a Studio Arts degree back then. It wasn’t until this last year or so, after I became disabled with Rheumatoid Arthritis and Dysautonomia, that I started really focusing on writing short stories and poetry again.

When I found Vocal Media and all of the wonderful people in the Vocal Facebook groups such as Vocal Social Society (VSS), Vocal Cafe, and The Vocal Creators Lounge – that’s when I started to have realistic dreams about writing. It’s now my goal to publish a book of short stories using my own illustrations. The Vocal community has been extremely supportive and I couldn’t be more grateful.

22. Writer and poet Justin Douglas Lee discovered how rewarding perseverance can be

On His Experience with Homelessness:

I learned that it’s expensive to be homeless mainly because you can’t store food anywhere, so you rely on eating at restaurants a lot. I also learned why being called a wet blanket is an insult. For me, homelessness was more like an adventure. I always knew I had somewhere to go live if I wanted to. For most of those people, they have nobody to turn to, and a lot of them suffer from serious addiction and mental health issues.

I appreciate having the small things a lot more now that I know what it’s like not to have them. A refrigerator and a pantry are wonderful things to have around. Air conditioning and heating are great. And I bought myself a big soft mattress, so I feel like I’m sleeping on a cloud at night.

I was homeless still when I first got poems published by the Denver Voice. That was the first time I ever got paid for my poetry. It wasn’t much, and it didn’t really help when I moved back home, but it was a great accomplishment. That was when I first wrote "The Butterfly" which is about my thoughts and experiences being homeless. There are a few different lessons in that poem that I try to portray. Things like sometimes when you think you’re helping someone, you’re just making things worse for them. And sometimes there isn’t someone around who can help pick you up when you’re down, even if they try. I always imagine that after the poem ends, the first butterfly tries really hard and eventually flies away too.

23. Imaginative fantasy writer Lilia explored all her senses for story conception

On How She Creates Stories and Her Creative Process:

Stories come to me first as images and feelings. The image usually gives me some idea of the setting and plot, while the feeling informs me of the type of story I want to write. Is it a sense of foreboding? Perhaps it will be a mystery then. Is it a feeling of nostalgia? Maybe a more reflective piece then.

From there, I fill in the plot by asking myself questions about the image. As an example, the story “To Light a Lantern,” began with the image of a severed head in a jewelry box being presented to the Emperor. (Don’t ask me why or how I get these images.) To get to that point of the story, I asked myself, is the severed head real? Who does it belong to? Why would they give it to the Emperor?

Similarly, “A Shipload of Dreams” materialized in my mind as a miniature sailboat in a puddle of water, its mast and sails obviously crafted lovingly by hand. In contrast to the image, though, the feelings that arose were ones of sadness and regret. The questions I asked myself thus looked a little different from the ones above. Here, I needed to first resolve the discrepancy between the whimsical, almost childish image and the more mature feelings. What childhood experiences would color this memory of a sailboat in regret? Was it the departure of a parent?

24. Multi-media queen Tammy Reese said you can be many things when you're aligned by a single purpose

On Her Purpose in Life:

My purpose in life is being a storyteller. If that's acting, writing, directing, media, or public relations. Telling stories that matter, that change lives, that drive discussions, that are impactful. I continue to pursue my purpose, my destiny.


To our uniquely brilliant spotlighted creators of 2021, thank you. Thank you for all the wonderful conversations; with each one, a greater understanding of our readership at large. Thank you for your genuine effort and effective communication; you made every single spotlight a collaborative effort. Thank you for finding a home on Vocal; we need you just as much (if not more) than you need us.

#VocalSpotlights aim to highlight standout creators who are changing the world one story at a time. 2022 has a lot to live up to in terms of creativity on Vocal; but if there's one thing we've learned from the spotlit stories, triumphs, introductions, and voices of 2021, it's that what we create isn't within us, it is us. When you identify with what you create, you owe it to the world to be Vocal.


About the Creator

Vocal Spotlight

Vocal Spotlight aims to highlight standout creators who are changing the world one story at a time. We're getting to know the storytellers who inspire us the most, and we can't wait for you to meet them.

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