28 Days of Black Excellence: Rasheedah Shahid-Tezak
Rasheedah Shahid-Tezak is an author of paranormal romance and urban fantasy. She is the president and manager of Cactus Copywriters LLC, creating content for brands such as Fisher-Price, Target and more. She is a member of Diverse Writers and Readers International and Romance Writers of America. She graduated from the UIC College of Liberal Arts and Sciences in 2001 and received her MFA from Seton Hill University in 2019. Her books can be found on Amazon, under the pen name R. Tezak.
Tariq El-Amin 00:01
Welcome to Black Excellence at UIC Office of Diversity, Equity and Engagement with Dr. Aisha El-Amin.
Recording of Dr. Martin Luther King 00:09
[Applause] Believe in yourself and believe that you’re somebody.
Clips from 1995 movie “Panther” 00:17
That we study and master a bunch of different things.
Why are you here?
Study and master a bunch of different things.
I’m proud to introduce our new Minister of Information.
Aisha El-Amin 00:26
I’m Dr. Aisha El-Amin.
Tariq El-Amin 00:29
Welcome to Black Excellence.
Aisha El-Amin 0:35
Greetings, UIC family and friends. I welcome you to UIC’s “28 Days of Black Excellence.” I am Dr. Aisha El-Amin, UIC’s associate vice chancellor for equity and belonging. It is my great honor to celebrate the history of Black excellence at UIC with some powerful, inspiring and informative conversations with UIC’s alumni and some of our past faculty and staff as well. Each day we have a new guest, and today I am honored to welcome Miss Queen to the microphone. Rasheedah Shahid is a graduate of College of Liberal Arts and Sciences in 2001 December, where they just said, “Everybody stand up. You are now graduated.” [Laughter] You’ve been up to a lot, Rashida, since 2001. And so if you could just kind of tell us about yourself, where you come from and what you’ve been up to since you’ve graduated from UIC.
Rasheedah Shahid-Tezak 1:35
Oh, my. So, originally I’m from Chicago, Illinois, born and raised. I went to a very small high school and elementary school. And when I graduated, I went to a very large public university, which was UIC. And so that was a huge transition for me. I really enjoyed being there. I feel like it really made me who I am. So, since I graduated from UIC, I started out teaching. The only thing I ever thought you could do with an English degree was teach or write the next great American novel. That was so wrong. [Laughter]
But I started out teaching. And while I was teaching, I ended up doing a lot of traveling around. I went from Minnesota to the West Coast and back again. And in that process, I met my husband. And I wrote my first romance novel, which I published, I believe in, gosh, I think it was 2012 or 2014? I’d have to look and see. But I write a lot of paranormal romance now. And that’s something I did before I decided to go to graduate school. I went to graduate school for popular fiction at Seton Hill. And while I was there, I started looking into more lucrative things to do with my writing, [laughter] rather than teaching because I didn’t necessarily want to transition my master’s degree into teaching at a university.
I found copywriting, which I recommend for every English degree. All the undergraduates: look into copywriting. I started copywriting for a travel company, Go Next, and they kind of introduced me to the world of corporate writing, which is currently what I’m into now. I’m actually on a little bit on hiatus, since we’re working from home. I’ve worked in a lot of marketing, product marketing, and for Best Way, Go Next, all these companies no one’s ever heard of, but I ended up writing for places like Fisher-Price, and Walmart and Target, and all these other companies that work with them. I did a little bit of freelancing on my own and started kind of, I want to say, my own business, but I’m still working at that where I could kind of just do copywriting and consulting for whoever needs it. And right now I’m working for Carvana. I don’t know if anybody’s ever heard of them. They’re a car company out on the West Coast. They have the cars in the vending machines.
Aisha El-Amin 4:25
Rasheedah Shahid-Tezak 4:26
They deliver cars to your house. I do a lot of editing and proofreading for their marketing department right now and do a lot of the blogs and things that they have. And in addition to that, I’m kind of also working on hopefully, my next couple of romance novels as well. So that’s what I’ve been doing. [Laughter]
Aisha El-Amin 4:44
Yes, well that’s a lot. That’s nice [laughter]. You’re like, “It’s a little something here and there.”
Aisha El-Amin 4:51
Now, wait a minute, you have to give me some plugs. Give me some novel names so that folks can go out and buy them and support you and feel all loved by you.
Rasheedah Shahid-Tezak 5:06
The only one that I usually share, because I write under a pen name, as well. [Laughter] But the one that I share is “A Taste of Fire.” It’s a paranormal romance novel that does historical romance. It’s interracial. It’s got it’s own world. So my main character is a phoenix and her husband is a vampire. [Laughter] It goes through the centuries. You can find it on Amazon, look it up, enjoy it, read it, and the next book, hopefully for that series will be coming out. I don’t want to say it, because if I say it, then I have to do it. [Laughter] But it should be coming out sometime this fall.
Aisha El-Amin 5:51
I want you to feel the pressure, because now you have folks say, “Look, I’m waiting for that. When is it again?”
Rasheedah Shahid-Tezak 6:00
You know, life happens. I had a lot of people who have read the books and left reviews and been contacting me like, “When’s the next one coming out?” I’m like, “You will get a free copy. I promise.” I don’t want to say that here. But those people who did leave reviews, a few of them, who are my fans, I promised them their own advanced copy. So we’ll see.
Aisha El-Amin 6:21
Nice. Now, tell me the difference, because I don’t know, and maybe some of our English majors, they may be more familiar, but you may be introducing this world of writing. I would never think about writing for some of these companies, like Fisher-Price. What does that even look like? [Laughter]
Rasheedah Shahid-Tezak 6:44
That looks like a lot. You know, it’s so funny, I ended up writing things that I would never have thought that a writer would write. I worked with Best Way in Arizona, and they had me writing for products that were like inflatable toys for kids, like your pool in the backyard. You do a product description, which means you create like, the product is a person and how that would sell to your mom or whoever is going in and seeing that product on the shelf. You have to learn to speak to them in that product’s voice. So, you’re combining kind of marketing and that whole creative aspect of like creating a character. And speaking to an audience.
In my freelance work, I’ve done white papers, which are pretty much like research papers, but they’re from the perspective of like the CEO, or the CFO of a company. And so you have to do research and make sure you know what you’re talking about, [laughter] before you start to write it. And those are publications that are posted on their website. It’s things you can put into your portfolio. And it’s publication. It’s not as glamorous [laughter] as writing a book, but it pays lucratively and immediately actually. And that’s one of the reasons I was like, “OK, I will do this interview.” Because as an undergraduate, I wish someone had had mentored me and let me know that you could do copywriting, you can do editing, you could do proofreading, you can do all sorts of things with your degree. And you need to get that portfolio together before you get out there. But a portfolio for an undergraduate student is basically all the papers you’re writing. Those are the things that they look for. Not everyone can write the way English majors can write.
Aisha El-Amin 8:52
That’s really, really good advice. As you think back in 2000, 1999, 2001, when you were just a little lad in LAS, what do you look at some of your fondest memories of that time?
Rasheedah Shahid-Tezak 9:07
Oh my gosh. The things I remember about UIC, of course, my favorite building. I know there’s been articles written about it, I was like looking it up today. The BSB building. [Laughter] Oh, that building that is just a maze of hallways and rooms with no windows and oddly arranged seating. I remember taking classes in there. I took undergraduate Arabic there are a lot. I got lost there a lot. [Laughter] But it was just one of my favorite buildings, that and the University Hall building that was just so uber tall in that brick parking lot.
I guess a lot of my fondest memories were… I started out as a pre-med student and I double majored And so the moment that I realized that I really wanted to be a writer, I was really inspired a lot by the teachers that I saw in the English department that looked like me. When I found it, because I did a lot of reading, and a lot of the reading I did was from people who didn’t look like me, older people who weren’t writing exactly the way I was. And as I got into my graduate level, or the upper-level classes, I was reading stuff that were written by Black women, and I had teachers that were Black women, and that really inspired me. And that, to me, was just one of my fonder memories of UIC. I always thought UIC was way ahead of the game, because I’ve gone to a lot of other schools and taught. And even in my graduate program that I went to recently, I graduated in 2019. There were not a lot of people who looked like me there. [Laughter] So, that is the takeaway that UIC was really diverse and way ahead of its time.
Aisha El-Amin 10:57
I love that. Because representation certainly does matter. It does.
Rasheedah Shahid-Tezak 11:00
It really does.
Aisha El-Amin 11:02
As you look at your journey, so every journey has some challenges, right? And some bumps in the road. Can you talk about some of those, so the current folks know that they are not in the space where other folks have not been in, and be successful and seen through.
Rasheedah Shahid-Tezak 11:18
I guess for me, it was just looking for a place. I got my degree in creative writing. And for me, there was a focus on realistic fiction, which is not necessarily my thing. I like to write crazy, weird stuff. And so I guess I always felt like there was no place for me. And I want to let people know that there is. We’re making a way. [Laughter] There’s always a way.
Even when I got into copywriting and what I do now, I often find that I’m the only one who looks like me in the room. I’m the only one who has the name that I have in the room. But it’s it’s getting better. So, I feel like even if you are writing vampire romances, and you’re the only one doing it at your university, or if you are the only one in the room who looks like you, push through because there’s success for you. Your voice is unique. They are looking for perspective that’s different from what everyone else had in the room has. That’s one of the biggest things I think I learned as a writer. I remember being in the room with other writers who are super prevalent, who have written over 100 books, and they have the same perspective I had having written like two or three books, that you always have that doubt. And here I am sitting next to this woman who’s written almost 100 books, and she’s asking the same questions I am and doubting herself the same way that I do. So, always believe in yourself and know that you have a place and that your successes are our successes. So that’s the takeaway, I feel like I would tell other people in this position.
Aisha El-Amin 13:19
I absolutely love that. And I appreciate you. I know, you’re like, “I don’t know if I want to do this,” but you bring your experiences. You’re just genuine. Just your warmth, and sharing those experiences and sharing the advice. I appreciate you, and I appreciate what you’re doing in the world.
Rasheedah Shahid-Tezak 13:42
Aisha El-Amin 13:43
So, thank you. And if there’s any other things that you wanted to share, and tell your current UIC folks that are in the struggle. The struggle was real in 2001; it continues to be real in 2022. Oh my gosh, I was about to say 21 I gotta get used to this.
Rasheedah Shahid-Tezak 14:02
Aisha El-Amin 14:03
If there’s any words of advice as you leave us, what would those words of advice be?
Rasheedah Shahid-Tezak 14:10
I guess for the students, it would be network because you never know who you’re sitting in the classroom with. They might be the next publisher at a big company or they might be secretly writing 50 books and be really prevalent, you never know. Network and always keep in contact with people. Be social, be kind and learn as much as you can from whoever you can whenever you can.
For faculty, as a former teacher, and having interacted with a lot of graduate students, my advice to teachers would be don’t forget your students. [Laughter] You know, because they rely on you. They do and you have left an impression on them, even if it’s like 10 years ago. I still remember the teachers I had at UIC, and they still might reach out to you. So don’t forget that connection that you have having been in the classroom having been an educator. You are a big influence in people’s lives.
So, that’s just it. Just keep networking. And I know it’s tough. Especially now we’re all like in our houses, working, Zoom interviews. [Laughter] But just being as connected and networking as much as you can, and keep in contact with people and remembering where you come from, who helped you to get there and who you can help.
Aisha El-Amin 15:36
Absolutely. Well, you keep doing you. And thank you so much for being part of UIC’s legacy of Black excellence and for doing all that you’re doing in the world.
Rasheedah Shahid-Tezak 15:50
Thank you for having me. I’m really glad we can connect. Thank you so much.
Tariq El-Amin 15:55
[Music] Thanks for joining us find more inspiring and informative conversations with UIC alumni, faculty and staff at blackresources.uic.edu. That’s blackresources.uic.edu.