“Malala Yousafzai and Girls Write Now share the notion that one young woman’s voice can open up great possibilities. I like to think that’s true.” –Suzzy Roche
In honor of Malala Day, Girls Write Now is proud to present “Ode to Malala,” a music video that was born two years ago when mentee, Priscilla Guo, was moved to write a poem about 15-year-old Pakistani education activist, Malala Yousafzai, who was shot on her way to school. For us at Girls Write Now, Malala Day represents everything we’re working for. A girl’s voice matters, and Girls Write Now is making that happen, one girl at a time.
On June 12th, Malala turned 17. To honor her and her ever-important work, the Girls Write Now community is sharing this music video as we as an organization also head into our 17th year.
Girls Write Now presents “Ode to Malala,” which was born through a collaboration of creative forces. Priscilla Guo, a graduating fourth year mentee headed to Harvard this fall, wrote a poem inspired by Malala and performed it at the 2012 International Day of the Girl and at Lincoln Center. Legendary folk singer-songwriter Suzzy Roche, Priscilla, and third-year mentee Najaya Royal collaborated on adapting the poem into lyrics, which Suzzy then put to music. When we debuted it at the 2014 Girls Write Now Awards, honoring Dawn L. Davis, Roberta Kaplan, and Gloria Steinem, Gloria Steinem said after hearing it for the first time: “That was the best song I’ve ever heard. Absolutely great!”
The song was performed by students of the Princeton Atelier 496 program, a program Toni Morrison helped start in 1994, under the guidance of Suzzy Roche and Meg Wolitzer, and recorded by Stewart Lerman. The filmmakers Andrew Zox and Daniel Zox, directed this outstanding music video in multiple locations throughout New York City. They said of the process, “it was incredible filming a music video to a song inspired by Malala Yousafzai, written by a young female poet, and performed by a legendary female folk artist.” “Ode to Malala” is now available on iTunes.
We are so thrilled to share it with you!
Learn more about the Girls Write Now girls involved:
Priscilla Guo is a rising freshman at Harvard University. In 2014, Priscilla was named one of Business Insider’s “Most Impressive High School Graduates.” She was appointed by Mayor Bloomberg to serve as a youth representative on the New York City Youth Board and is tasked with advising the New York City Department of Youth and Community Development on growing youth programming. Priscilla founded her high school’s UNICEF chapter and served as its President for four years. An impassioned champion for girls’ education, Priscilla serves as a National Teen Advisor to Girl Up, a United Nations Foundation campaign that empowers American teens to raise awareness and funds for U.N. programs that aid some of the world’s hardest-to-reach adolescent girls. She also recently worked with Congresswoman Grace Meng on the Girls Count Act, which ensures girls receive birth certificates, documentation that is critical for accessing education, health and social services and career opportunities. As a writing fellow for NYCAN, she wrote and researched articles for education reform. Priscilla has been a mentee and Poetry Ambassador at Girls Write Now for four years. She says of Girls Write Now, “It has been my sisterhood of the traveling pens.”
Najaya Royal’s mother heard about Girls Write Now when she was eleven, and Najaya waited eagerly to apply. School was not always a safe place for her, much like Malala. In middle school, Najaya was cyber-bullied. Writing, a comfort to her since elementary school, gave her an outlet for expressing herself during this time. Now, she’s making waves with her poetry, already earning a Silver Key in Poetry from the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards and serving as a Brooklyn Community Foundation Peter Jay Sharp Youth Arts Fellow during 2013-2014.
Nishat Anjum was a second year mentee with Girls Write Now and is headed to Macaulay Honors at Brooklyn College this fall. A native of Bangladesh, Nishat is a recipient of the Silver Key in Short Story for the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards. She reflects on her experience with her mentor, “Being a teenager is about developing your own identity and finding your place in the world. While I haven’t discovered what the universe wants me to do, I wouldn’t have realized my potential as a writer if I weren’t paired with Julie. Meeting Julie was like opening my eyes to the world beyond my island. I learned that sometimes the best story you can tell is your own, and that fewer words can have more significance. By encouraging me to reach past my comfort zones, Julie has given me a better perspective on who I am.”
Mennen Gordon will continue with Girls Write Now this fall, as she heads into her senior year at the Institute for Collaborative Education. She has already received a Silver Key Honorable Mention from the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards.
Rumer LeGendre, born and raised in New York City, is headed into her third year at Girls Write Now. In 2014, Rumer was chosen to perform at a reading of “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/ When the Rainbow Is Enuf” at an event hosted by the National Black Leadership Commission on AIDS, Inc.
Ariana Nicoletta is a member of our Youth Board, and describes Girls Write Now as the first creative outlet that accepted her freely and without judgment. Arianna attends New York University – Steinhardt, and majors in Communicative Sciences & Disorders.
Jade Rodriguez joined the GWN community as a sophomore, and will begin her junior year this fall. She attends the Urban Assembly Bronx Studio School for Writers and Artists and writes for her school newspaper the BSSWA Bulletin. Because of Girls Write Now, she’s “taking risks and breaking through.” We are looking forward to watching her and her writing grow as she continues with Girls Write Now.
Natalia Vargas-Caba is a proud 2007 mentee-alum who works to further solidify the sense of sisterhood in the community by exploring new outlets and new inspirations. In 2014, she returned to Girls Write Now as a spring semester intern to give back for all the inspiring experiences the community had delivered to her as a young writer. She completed her English Associates Degree at Bronx Community College and will continue her studies at Sarah Lawrence in fall 2014 with a major in Creative Writing and Women’s Studies. When not interning or studying, Natalia can be found enclosed within the quiet, protective walls of an undiscovered cafe sipping hot green tea with Rimbaud’s words on hand.