Ashley Inguanta sat holding her phone to her ear, a gust of Mississippi air blowing through the open car door and into the receiver of her cell phone. Cars and trucks could be heard, faintly, zooming down the highway past the rest stop where she pulled over to share her journey up to this point.
Just the day before, she had packed up her life in Orlando to begin making her way to her new home in California. After spending nearly half of her life in the Sunshine State, she’s decided it’s time for new beginnings.
Inguanta will be publishing her new book of poetry titled Bomb this year, and she’s on her way to Los Angeles to further pursue her career as a writer and photographer.
She always knew that she loved writing — especially poetry — but she was never sure of how to pursue it. At 12 years old, her love for poetry deepened. By age 15, she told her high school English teacher that she wanted to publish a book.
When she first came to UCF in 2004, she struggled with choosing a major. She initially considered radio-television because she enjoyed speaking in front of people, but quickly realized that it wasn’t for her because she loves writing. From there, she switched to journalism and worked at the Central Florida Future for a brief period.
In 2008, she fell into photography accidentally after being assigned to interview and take photos at the Margot and the Nuclear So and So’s concert at The Social.
“I loved it, and I had so much fun,” she recalled. “I ended up dropping my double major, which was creative writing and journalism. I dropped the journalism part so I could focus on photography and changed journalism to my minor, and slowly and surely I found my thing: creative writing and photography.”
She earned her bachelor’s degree in 2009, and two years later she earned her master’s in fine arts. For the past few years, she has worked on making her mark in the literary world. Inguanta was a co-finalist in the Literary Death Match; in 2013, she was a Pushcart Prize nominee; in 2014, she won third place in the Prick of the Spindle’s Poetry Open; and in 2015, she was named Best Orlando Poet by Orlando Weekly.
Between the ages of 15 and 22, Inguanta struggled with an eating disorder. With her anxiety, even leaving her house was difficult, but her attitude changed when she came to UCF.
“UCF saved my life,” she admitted. “I honestly have no idea what would’ve happened to me if I didn’t go. I didn’t really know how beautiful life could be until I went to college and met my friends, and teachers, and people who believed in me.
“I’d never had such a large group of people that believed in me, and I believed in them. I had never had that before.”
Genevieve Anna Tyrrell, a graduate school colleague and close friend, has always appreciated Inguanta’s artistic eye.
“She sees beauty in everything,” she reflected. “Even in chaos and destruction, she understands that something others might shy away from can be something beautiful, and she does that all the time in her writing.”
Inguanta has used writing to heal since her teens. She has had several books published, and her newest collection of poems, set to be published later this year, Bomb, is a continuation of her most cherished collection, For the Woman Alone, which was published in 2014.
“I was actually in turmoil when I wrote that book,” she confessed. “It was kind of a miracle that it came out. I was like, ‘I have to do something, I have to put this somewhere, I have to save my life, I need to figure out how to move forward.'"
Poetry proved to be that way. Her writing explores the aftermath of relationships.
“For the Woman Alone explores what happens when someone you love leaves, and Bomb kind of remembers that person, and processes that leaving from a bit of a healthier standpoint, and then let's go,” she explained.
Bomb is the story of two women in love, and “one of them naturally moves into attaching a bomb to the other one," Inguanta said. The woman who attaches the bomb eventually leaves, and the woman who’s left has to figure out how to move on.
“It has an ending that’s very beautiful and loving,” she revealed. “I wasn’t expecting that either, and I think that’s my favorite part about the book.”
Monica Mulder, an old friend and aspiring actress, has always admired the vulnerability of Inguanta’s work.
“A big part in acting is being able to open up and be vulnerable,” Mulder said. “You might not be doing it as yourself — you might be a character — but it’s still you up there, and I feel like it’s a similar thing with poetry. It might be metaphors, and people may not know exactly what you’re talking about, but it’s still very open and raw.”
Inguanta intends to make extra stops before nesting in L.A. — New Orleans, Austin and Seattle to name a few — but Orlando will always be close to her heart.
“I consider myself to be from Orlando even though I wasn’t born there, just because it’s changed my life so much,” she expressed. “And I’ll always come back. I’ll always prioritize my family in Orlando.”
Bomb is expected to be released in fall 2016.
Kristin James is a contributing writer for the Central Florida Future.