Jessica Hagerman

I have been making jewelry since I was 12. It started with braided floss jesicafriendship bracelets, and graduated to a full-fledged company, Cassiopeia Designs, in college, when my roommate and I began to make and sell custom jewelry for dorm dances to the other women in our building. With the launching of my Etsy site in 2009 ( the business went international, and since then I have continued to make jewelry in my free time. My favorite materials to work with are found objects—things like toy rubber dinosaurs, or bottle caps, or other materials that one would not necessarily equate with fine jewelry-making, but which I love to repurpose into unique and surprising pieces. I have been fortunate in my time to do a lot of traveling, and the indigenous designs of Australia, India, and the Dominican Republic also influence my style. One of my favorite things to make are malas, or Hindi prayer beads. Malas inspired the Christian rosary, and they are the same idea: one prayer (or mantra) per bead. In Hinduism, God has 108 names/avatars, so there are 108 beads knotted into each strand.

All of the proceeds from my jewelry-making go toward financing the contest entry fees for my other passion: writing. I have an MFA in Creative Writing, and I work as a professor of writing. I truly believe that my writing is how I will change the world, because I focus on documentary story-telling: putting out into the world the stories that need to be told and would not be told without me as the vehicle. One of the fastest and most effective ways to break into the literary scene is through contests sponsored by various lit journals, but these usually have entry fees. I make jewelry to pay the fees; I pay the fees to get my writing out there; I write because other people depend on me to, and I LOVE it. My most recent project was an ethnography of the transgender community in Springfield, Illinois.