Stella Pope Duarte

The Spiral Staircase

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“It’s right there what you have to do next, m’ija; it’s right in front of you.”

Every April, I reflect on my father’s words, as given to me in a dream in 1995. I heard the words clearly in the dream, as a thought that crystallized in my mind as I stood with my father at the bottom of a salmon-colored, spiral staircase that climbed up into the heavens. He was dressed in his work clothes and held my hand as he led me to the spiral staircase that would become a symbol of my writing life. Of course, no one could have guessed the meaning of my dream, nor did I have any idea what it meant. That is the way it is when something happens in the spiritual world. We are given a glimpse of what is to come, nothing more. It is then up to each of us to discover our direction. The questions must begin within, and, most likely, they will not have answers. 

It is a humbling thing to ask questions. When the mysterious is presented to us, our way is uncertain, and nothing seems to fit. I now tell people at my workshops, “Ask yourself the hard questions.” I had to learn to do the same. I wrote the dream in my journal and began to ask, “What’s in front of me?” As a single mom with three jobs, there were many things in front of me – which one of those was I to look at? Over and over again I asked. Then, one night (or shall I say in the wee hours of the morning), I decided to write the dream on my computer while I was working on research for the college classes I taught. When I wrote the words, “It’s right there what you have to do next; it’s right in front of you,” I experienced a moment of catharsis in which I realized I was a writer. In fact, I asked out loud, “You mean, I’m a writer?” And it seemed as if every cell in my body responded with a loud, resounding “YES!”

I wish I could say that, once I learned what the words meant, everything was easy; but, that is not true. Then the work began. More questions followed. I even began to “argue” with my father! “What should I write, Dad?” No answer. I was frantic. Something was bubbling up inside me. A prophecy had been given, and I did not understand how to put it into action. One evening, in desperation for an answer, I went to a nearby bookstore and, as I ran my hand across a bookshelf, a book fell into my hands. It was a collection of short stories, Tales of Tenderness and Power, by Bessie Head, a South African writer who wrote stories about her village. She wrote about the people she had known as a child, such as the young couple who dared to marry in spite of their parents’ disapproval, and the American woman who had married an African man and was now living in the village. On and on, her stories told of everyday life in a small African village.

Life is a magical journey. What we have to do next IS in front of us, at all times. The key to understanding is patience and the ability to believe in things we cannot understand. I had a village like Bessie did, my barrio, and, once I realized that, I took my first step up the spiral staircase and my writing journey began.  

Stella Pope Duarte was born and raised in South Phoenix. She began her award-winning career in 1995 after she had a dream in which her deceased father told her that her destiny was to become a writer. Contact her at

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