As a published author with an MFA in Creative Writing from Lesley University, Aqueela Culbreath-Britt knows that stories have the power to change people. In her writing, she explores the themes of acceptance and rejection while trying to help her readers step into the shoes of people whose experiences are foreign to them.
She's inspired to grapple with difficult subjects through her writing because she deals with difficult subjects every day. In addition to being a published author, Aqueela also works as a social worker for the Department of Children and Families. In her role working for child protection, Aqueela sees how being heard can help someone in need. And by sharing their stories, she gives a voice to people who would otherwise not have that opportunity.
Since her childhood, Aqueela has been drawn to making the world better. Growing up, the importance of helping others was instilled in Aqueela by her closest role models. Her grandmother worked as a social worker and an activist and fought for equal rights, and her mother touched the lives of many children and families throughout her career as a teacher.
"I learned a kind of humanitarian approach to the world from my grandmother and mother," Aqueela says. Her family's willingness to confront the truth – that many people in this world struggle – rubbed off on Aqueela. She learned that to make change she needed to expose what otherwise might be hidden, and that to make change, sometimes hard truths need to be confronted head-on.
Aqueela studied to become a social worker in college to continue with her family's commitment to helping others. Now, in her work for the Department of Children and Families, she encounters broken homes and broken systems. She works with children and acts as the first line of defense for at-risk young people. And she writes stories based on her experiences, with the hope that her readers will gain understanding and empathy.
A Passion for Writing
Aqueela’s experiences at work infuse her stories with a vitality that comes along with real life. Her characters are drawn from years of experiences working with at-risk populations, and her time working with young people in trouble helps to make her stories come alive.
In fact, from her first manuscript to her latest collection of short stories, Aqueela’s characters “were all living these tough difficult lives. I pull together the different stories that I’ve heard to get them out there for people to read. I give a voice to those who feel like they don’t have a voice.”
Many of Aqueela's stories explore themes of inclusion or issues of trauma and are centered around people who identify as LGBTQ. But their identities aren’t necessarily what the stories are about. “I want to bring to life the normalcy of a person who identifies as LGBTQ,” she explains.
This normalcy shines through even though many of her characters also come from broken homes, have family struggling with alcoholism, or see and experience domestic violence. Her characters act with love and care even though they might be experiencing profound trauma. Their lives are tough but they thrive just the same as anyone else.
Aqueela writes about characters like this because as a social worker she so often sees people struggling. It’s important to her that her readers know that people who often live on the margins of society also have hopes and dreams and are looking for love.
What ties all of her characters together, whether they’re experiencing trauma or are just trying to grow up, is this theme of love. When talking about her latest story, Aqueela notes that “there’s a love story in here because there’s always a love story in everything that I write.”
The Power to Change
Aqueela feels that it is her job as a writer is to transport her readers into someone else's life. She wants them to see the world through her characters’ eyes and to understand the humanity that we all share. Aqueela explains that, "my work as a writer is to remind the world that we're all living parallel lives and there aren't many things that set us apart from the next person."
To her, writing should change the reader. If her readers can experience walking in someone else’s shoes then they can change for the better. She thinks that “if more people recognize how similar everyone is, there’ll be a little bit more love in the world.”
Explore Writing Programs at Lesley
Related Articles & Stories
Read more about our students, faculty and alumni.