Her background: Ford's family is known for its political prominence throughout Tennessee; her uncle Harold Ford Sr. was an 11-term congressman from the state. But in 2005, her father, John, then a state senator, was arrested (and later convicted) for taking $55,000 in bribes. Two years later, Ford's mother was imprisoned for drunk driving. After moving in with her aunt in South Carolina, Ford attended two different high schools before being accepted to Governor's School for the Arts and Humanities, a rigorous residential program for emerging artists.
Breakthrough idea: Giving voice to the pain of her family falling apart. "When I first started writing, I thought conflict and drama would make the work good," she says. "But I realized that doesn't create art. Art comes from discovery. I had to ask questions of my situation and feelings. That changed my writing and my life."
What's next: Speaking to teens whose parents have been imprisoned.
Her work: "Maybe all you need to know is that this night will pass. Just like the rest of them. ... You won't always be this restless, this lonely." —From Ford's essay "To a Restless Little Brother Calling for Mama in his Sleep"
Breakthrough advice: "When you find something you love to do, love it, love it, love it. Good things come from bravely chasing what you love—don't let anybody steer you off course." —Crystal G. Martin