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Matt Mendez with his crew in an airplane hangar

Tucson Author, Matt Mendez, Found His Flair for Words at Pima

An airman and writer, Matt Mendez credits Pima for kindling his passion for writing

By Patty Machelor for Pima Community College

Author Matt Mendez credits Pima Community College as the foundation for so much of what he enjoys in his life now. He’s a published writer with two books under his belt and a screenplay getting underway.  

But unlike many people who reach their goals, Matt didn't grow up assured of success. 

Matt was born in El Paso and, while his family was very supportive, they weren’t knowledgeable about how to help him recognize his potential, much less achieve it. He is the first person in his family to attend college.

As a teenager, school was not a great experience, he said, and as he grew older, he worried he wouldn’t do well if he went to college. He dreamed of becoming a filmmaker but says it felt unattainable .

After graduating from high school, Matt joined the United States Air Force. He completed four years of active duty and was deployed twice, to Kuwait. 

Matt found his way to Tucson about 24 years ago after a friend told him about an opening with the Arizona Air National Guard. He moved here without visiting first. “I immediately fell in love with Tucson,” he said. “It’s a lot like El Paso, with the same Mexican culture I grew up with.” 

Matt Mendez holds up his two books
Matt Mendez holds up his two books | Photo courtesy: Dan Pinard, PCCTV

He worked on airplanes, a job he enjoyed, but as he moved through his days, he was still dreaming of creating films. 

Matt enrolled in Pima Community College in 2001 as a digital arts student, and began to explore his interests and his options. “It wasn’t intimidating,” he said of the community college. “I realized this is a place where I can come and figure out what school is about.”

“It never crossed my mind to be a writer.”

Pima is also where he discovered he loved writing. Matt said he’d taken creative writing in high school but mostly because the class fit well with his schedule.  

“I didn’t really think too much of it,” he said. “It never crossed my mind to be a writer.”

One of his Pima instructors, Meg Files, saw his potential almost immediately.  

“Poetry was my first success in writing,” he said. “Just the exposure to it was new and exciting. I really enjoyed her class.”

Meg taught developmental and academic writing, as well as creative writing at Pima for 30 years and has had hundreds of students. Still, she remembers Matt well.

“As a student in class, he was both funny and serious. Willing to take risks, he let himself be vulnerable in his writing,” said Meg, who was chair of the West Campus English and Journalism Department for 17 years. “He was just the kind of student we teachers love — open and ready to take it all in, not simply to absorb but to understand.”  

“After high school, and not doing well, Pima really set me up to be successful. It set me on the path to really learn how to learn. ” ~Matt Mendez

After Matt completed the  Arizona General Education Curriculum at Pima, he transitioned straight to the University of Arizona where he went on to receive his master’s degree in creative writing.

Since then, he’s continued to work for the Morris Arizona Air National Guard and is currently a chief master sergeant in the 152nd Aircraft Maintenance Unit. 

In addition to his job and his writing, Matt is also busy with family life. He’s married to Marlo Mendez, and they are raising two daughters, Margie, 11, and Gabby, 9. 

‘Pima set me up to be successful’

Meg helped Matt with his first book, "Barely Missing Everything,” about two boys growing up in El Paso and trying to figure out what to do with their lives after high school. His second book, "The Broke Hearts," was published in October 2023 and is a continuation of the first story.

Meg also directed the Pima Writers’ Workshop, a national writers’ conference, for 28 years. After Matt’s first book was published, Meg invited him back as a conference speaker, alongside many seasoned authors. 

“He just knocked everyone’s socks off,” she said. “He was funny, authentic, and inspiring.”

Meg said it has been a joy to see Matt’s successes since he was her student, and she’s eager to read his new book. 

It’s a life Matt says he thoroughly enjoys, and he’s grateful he gained his footing at Pima. 

“After high school, and not doing well, Pima really set me up to be successful,” he said. “It set me on the path to really learn how to learn.”

Matt Mendez works with team mates at a national air guard base.
Pima Grad, Author Matt Mendez's, Writing Success
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