Marge Pellegrino Photo by Hayleigh Daughtery
By Kathryn Burney

As a writer, Marge Pellegrino expresses herself by taking what she knows about a situation and looking at it from a different point of view. 

After the death of her brother, Pellegrino wrote a story about the experience that was published in a parenting magazine. 

“That story just kept echoing. I kept thinking about it, so I rewrote it as though my son had said it in his voice, and so that became my first children’s book,” Pellegrino said. 

The finished product, “I Don’t Have an Uncle Phil Anymore,” published in 1999, explored grief and how children process loss in their lives.

As a child, Pellegrino’s parents stressed to her the importance of public service, which inspired her next book, “My Grandma’s the Mayor.” 

“We were always doing something to help out the community,” she said. “I knew how good that felt, but now that I was a parent and I was going to my son’s school I realized there were only a couple of parents that got involved. I thought ‘Wow, kids are not getting this model. I could write a story about that,’ so I did.”

 Audio by Yetzabell Rojas. Supervisor Melissa Guz
Pellegrino is also the director of The Owl and Panther Project, an organization that helps refugees through expressive arts.

Pellegrino volunteers more than 20 hours a week with The Owl and Panther Project. She uses art, such as poems and stories, to help refugees express themselves in a safe place. Her goal is to set that model of service for the refugees so that one day a former client can take over her position.

Affected by her work with refugees from Guatemala and her realization of how little she knew about the events happening there, she felt the need to learn more, she said. 

“I was thinking, ‘What’s gonna happen when all these cool stories that they’re telling are lost?’” Pellegrino said. “So I did a lot of research, I did interviews, I read two boxes of books, I watched videos, I read poetry that my students wrote and read poetry of other poets. It was really helpful to me.” 

Pellegrino felt that the public needed to be aware of what was happening in Guatemala, so she set out to write a story about it. 

In the hopes of reaching more people, the process eventually became the award-winning novel “Journey of Dreams,” a story of Guatemalan refugees told from the perspective of a displaced child. 

“I understood that I could weave three threads: weave folk tales, I could weave her dreams, and I could weave her narrative,” Pellegrino said. 

Though Pellegrino has published four novels, she didn’t begin writing until much later in her life.

 “I didn’t realize [writing] was something that I could do, that real people did,” she said. “I thought you had to be magic.”

**From the Editor: This story was a product of the interviewing workshop with Professor Jeannine Relly, an assistant professor at the University of Arizona.**


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