“Citizen Media”: Tackling the Personal Statement (with a little help from Lauryn Hill)

This post was written by Megan Turner, a mentor in our Digital Media Mentoring Program.

The changing leaves and darkening skies not only mark the beginning of fall but also the start of the college application process—and with that, the dreaded personal statement.

This October at the New School, college bound juniors and seniors, as well as other mentees in the digital media mentorship program at Girls Write Now, were offered a head start on this process. Mentees created digital statements as part of Girls Write Now’s first digital media workshop of the year. Although not a substitute for the standard college essay, Urban Word’s Creatively College Bound Coordinator, Erica Fabri, suggested these digital statements could be used to enhance students’ college applications.

Mentees created digital statements by completing a fill-in-the-blank script with lines such as, “When I remember: _______ (place, person or thing you love), I think of: _______ (color, animal or memory).”

The script was inspired by Audre Lorde’s “Hanging Fire” and Lauryn Hill’s “Every Ghetto, Every City.” Fabri encouraged mentees to borrow ideas from the two poems, suggesting the best writers often “steal” from others.

After completing their worksheets, mentees recorded their personal statements in front of a white screen with the assistance of Fabri and Urban Word’s Digital Media Manager, DK Wright. Fabri and Wright also asked students to consider whether they would later add text, b-roll, or a split screen as a way of enhancing their original recording.

While reading a script in front of a camera was nerve-racking for some, mentor and mentee pair Paola Messina and Tiffany Wickham described this as their favorite part of Saturday’s workshop. Wickham, a junior, said she enjoyed “recording my poem and making it come to life.”

The pair also discussed why writing about oneself can prove challenging. “It’s hard to write about yourself because there is so much to say,” said Wickham, stating it was difficult to know what to include.

Mentee and junior Nataly Marte stated writing about oneself is “awkward,” as one often thinks only of the negative. At the same time, Marte described the process as “liberating at times—to be able to say what you feel about yourself.”

Messina added that writing about oneself is “a healthy thing to do.” She said, “You end up facing your demons in a way—so that’s the tough part.”

Girls Write Now’s “Citizen Media” workshop ended with the traditional closing lines and suggestions on how to collect film. While students are not required to edit their digital statements, they will have the opportunity to do so in the next digital workshop, “Compilation Films: Cut-Ups and Splices,” scheduled for November 22.

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Workshops Launch, Voice to Voice

Following an awesome orientation — where we welcomed our biggest-ever class of mentors and mentees — and a spectacular celebration of International Day of the Girl, we launched our 2014-15 workshop series. This year’s studio and genre curriculum will be guided by a new annual theme, Voice to Voice.

To us at Girls Write Now, this theme symbolizes the power of our evolving and interconnected narratives. It celebrates the forging of our community through mentorship and friendship. It champions the diversity of writerly voices—individually, collectively, globally—no matter their shape, size or medium. Last year, we broke through barriers. This year? We’re striving for another step forward. Claiming our voices; owning our voices—whether in private, in intimate company or at high volume.

On Saturday, October 18th, our Digital Media Mentoring Program participants explored citizen media in partnership with Urban Word, and on Saturday, October 25th at our Writing & Mentoring Program, we dove into a seminal favorite: short stories.

Our workshops are not only an opportunity for mentees and mentors to come together and learn new skills, but also a chance to meet professional women authors specializing in a range of genres. With more to come, we’re excited to announce incredible craft talk guest authors Hasanthika Sirisena, Alexandra Kleeman, Nicole Dennis, and the award-winning Suki Kim!

Keep an eye on our blog, our newsletters, Twitter and Facebook for more #VoiceToVoice!

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Writing & Mentoring Program Orientation and the Community of Girls Write Now

This post was written by Winkie Ma, a mentee in our Writing & Mentoring Program.

Community is described as a fellowship that gives us a comfortable, homey feeling. To some, it is a group of loving people who help them overcome any difficulties. To others, it may also be a place that assists with the growth and maturation of that individual. Both of these definitions are valid. It was this theme of togetherness that recurred multiple times during the Girls Write Now Writing & Mentoring orientation on September 27th, 2014.

We were introduced with this idea in the opening lines of the Saturday session. All attendees were asked to reminisce upon a time in which we felt at home, along with the roles we played in that memory. Though our responses regarding the exact setting all differed, we all undeniably felt the same sentiment at the thought of our own communities.

Arguably the most exciting experience was the matching of mentors and mentees. Most members, including myself, were new to the program, making this orientation an excitingly gripping one. Nonetheless, it is safe to conclude that all pairs were compatible, even after such a short, initial meeting. Backgrounds, jokes, and stories were shared between the duos, and a clear friendship was bound to ensue from everyone.

Though the matching of mentors and mentees was a significant event, the Girls Write Now workshop kept the theme of community running. In little circles, neighboring pairs answered personal questions regarding a range of topics, such as role models or distant childhood memories. Each group was then to create and present a small skit, speech, game, et cetera that represented the group as a whole. This activity demonstrated the importance of achieving a goal by working together. One group performed a refreshing, comedic song, while another crafted an artistic picture of shared attributes as well as unique traits. The circles undoubtedly understood the moral of teamwork, judging by all the spectacular results.

The Girls Write Now workshop was indeed entertaining to everybody, but more importantly, it served as an inspirational start to the year. We were given the feeling of togetherness throughout the orientation. We have important roles in this society of enthusiastic, female writers. The repeated theme serves as a reminder that as members of the 2014 Girls Write Now program, we are now a part of a whole new community.


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Celebration of International Day of the Girl

Pictured from left Farrin Jacobs, Robin Morgan, Maya Nussbaum, Beena Kamlani, Bridgett M. Davis, Taysha Clark, and Rachel Fershleiser.

Pictured from left Farrin Jacobs, Robin Morgan, Maya Nussbaum, Beena Kamlani, Bridgett M. Davis, Taysha Clark, and Rachel Fershleiser.

“There’s nothing more dangerous to the patriarchy than a girl with a pen in her hand.” —ROBIN MORGAN, activist & author

“You never realize how powerful mentorship is until you have been a beneficiary of it.” —TAYSHA CLARK, Girls Write Now Youth Board Co-Chair

If you missed the event or are inspired to support Girls Write Now with another generous gift for a girl’s #Right2Write, please consider donating.

Over the last few months, Girls Write Now has been in conversations with The Malala Fund, Chime for Change, with The Clinton Foundation’s No Ceilings, with VIDA’s: Women in Literary Arts, and with AOL and MAKERS: Women Who Make America around the issues facing women and girls today. In the end, we all agree about the importance of a girl’s story — no matter how scared she or others may be to hear it—and that we need to work together to protect and support a girl’s right to write — which is a luxury around the world and right here in New York where only 22% of students graduate high school equipped with the proficient writing skills they will need to succeed in college and beyond.

At Girls Write Now, International Day of the Girl was about taking a moment to celebrate how far our girls have come and acknowledging how far we all still have to go, together. Our event launched early Friday morning, October 10th, with the exciting news that 17-year-old Malala Yousafzai, activist for girls’ education around the world, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. That afternoon, Girls Write Now’s music video “Ode to Malala” — inspired by a poem mentee alum Priscilla Guo wrote two years ago when Malala was shot on her way to school — enjoyed its international screening at the United Nations. Girls Write Now mentees presented their original work to officials from UN Women, UNICEF, and an audience of more than 600 girls.

The festivities continued into the evening, with cocktails, hors d’oeuvres, and an inspiring panel of women writers, activists, and leaders. Moderator Beena Kamlani, Senior Editor of Viking Penguin Random House, began the evening with her own story of mentorship and triumph. After Beena’s father told her she would not be attending university because “an educated woman is a liability,” Mrs. Vijayalakshmi Pandit, the first female president of the United Nations General Assembly, changed her father’s mind and Beena’s life.

Panelists Robin Morgan and Taysha Clark.

Panelists Robin Morgan and Taysha Clark.

Our powerhouse panelists included Rachel Fershleiser, Author and Publisher Outreach at Tumblr, novelist Bridgett M. Davis of the recently released Into the Go-Slow, Farrin Jacobs, editor of I Am Malala: Young Reader’s Edition, our very own Taysha Clark, mentee alum and Girls Write Now Youth Board Co-Chair, and last but certainly not least, author and activist Robin Morgan. Exploring the intersection of writing and feminism in their own lives, panelists delved into questions as timeless as writing’s power of catharsis and as topical as Emma Watson’s HeforShe campaign speech at the UN and the role of men in the movement.

Photos and Videos
View event photos on Facebook and Instagram. Full videos from the event will be posted soon – check back!


Girls Write Now & Makers: Girls Write Now Celebrates International Day of the Girl by Raising Independent Voices (MAKERS)

Girls Write Now & Chime for Change: Partnership (Chime for Change)

Let’s Keep Empowering Women Writers (The Rumpus)

Required Reading (VIDA: Women in Literary Arts)

To Do This Week (New York Observer)

Girls Write Now Celebrates International Day of the Girl (Augury Books)

Interview with Maya Nussbuam and Taysha Clark (Women’s Media Center Live with Robin Morgan)

Girls Write Now at the United Nations

Several of our mentees were proudly involved with the 2nd annual Girls Speak Out event at the United Nations, an event showcasing the stories of girls around the world. Their work was published online and selected to be performed (see the Livestream of the event). Our teens were invited into their acting troupe, performing for over 650 attendees. Also, our music video, “Ode to Malala,” premiered on a global stage.


The evening was made possible by our generous supporters and vendors:

Brant Instore

Chelsea Wine Vault

Exhale Spa

Franco Vitella Catered Affairs


Intrepid Museum

Megan Henry (Creative Designer)

Muneesh Jain (Photographer)

Rooftop Films

Taylor Creative Inc.

Tom Hunt (Videographer)

Tishman Speyer

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Mentee Shirleyka Hector Receives Urban Hero Award

Girls Write Now mentee and 2014 Urban Hero Shirleyka Hector (center)

On October 7, 2014, for the 20th anniversary of the Catalog for Giving, Girls Write Now mentee Shirleyka Hector was honored at the Urban Heroes Award Benefit by the Girls Write Now Board of Directors. Hector was one of twelve youth honorees that evening.

“Thanks to the Catalog and Girls Write Now, I can say that I embrace the person I am today wholeheartedly, for I have found a community where I feel loved at all times,” said Hector. “I am so grateful to have the opportunity to be part of such an amazing family.”

Joining Hector at the event was her school counselor, Sean Burke. “Working with Shirleyka is a true pleasure,” said Burke. “She is inspiring, talented, generous, and a young woman with incredible confidence and spirit. When she sets her sights on something, she achieves it. She wants to write a book and I have no doubt she will.”

From left: Shirleyka’s father, Robelson Hector; Honoree Shirleyka Hector; Girls Write Now Director of Development Michelle Paul; Shirleyka’s school counselor, Sean Burke

Below, read Shirleyka’s biography, which was published in the evening’s program. Congratulations, Shirleyka!

I was born in 1997 in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. After the earthquake hit Haiti in 2010, I moved to New York shortly after. I am currently a junior at the International High School at Lafayette. My journey has not been easy thus far, but with strength and courage, I keep moving forward.

Moving to New York was the biggest turning point in my life. I got bullied at school for being an immigrant. I cried a lot because I had no one to help me cope with that issue. As a result, I turned to writing in hopes of fleeing this mad world and finding my purpose as a human being. Writing became the most effective form of therapy for me.

I had people tell me that I was not intelligent enough. I heard those people of course, but their words did not matter because I knew my destination. I became a tutor and I was the one tutoring my bullies in every single subject, even in English, which brought an inexplicable joy to my heart. The lesson I learned is that people will always have something negative to say but you choose what the effect is going to be; you can either let them build you or break you.

To seal the bottle, when I found out about Girls Write Now, I was in a state of ecstasy! I got paired with an amazing mentor who has been nothing less than an inspiration to me. Girls Write Now has entirely changed my life, for I found a place where I always feel welcome. Being part of the Girls Write Now community definitely completed me. Girls Write Now has made me stronger, more outspoken, and more determined to accomplish my goals.

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“Stay True To Yourself” — Bella Thorne’s Advice to Girls on Finding Your Voice

At Girls Write Now, our dream is to help underserved teen girls find their voices through writing and in turn, make the world a better place. In the spirit of this cause, and in honor of National Dyslexia Awareness Month, we were lucky enough to catch up with accomplished teen actress, dancer, role model, and writer Bella Thorne, whose book Autumn Falls will be published next month.

Thorne is an impressive young woman. At only seventeen years old, she’s already starred in the TV show Shake It Up as well as the 2014 film Blended. On November 11, Thorne will add to her list of achievements with the release of her much-anticipated young adult book, Autumn Falls (Delacorte Press). Infusing creativity into all her many projects, Thorne is an inspiration to girls everywhere who are finding their own voices.

But despite her many accomplishments and rising stardom, the teenage role model hasn’t had it easy. In first grade, Thorne was diagnosed with dyslexia, a language processing disorder that can make tasks like reading, writing, spelling, and word organization difficult. Not only for those with dyslexia, but for young women and writers around the world, Thorne is a shining example of what can be accomplished with the right attitude and drive.

We spoke with Bella about the writing that inspires her, her battle with dyslexia, finding confidence through creativity, and her advice for other girls and women.

Girls Write Now: We are asking authors to list a book that changed or transformed them growing up. What book, written by a woman author (or not), inspired you as a teen? For Malala, it was The Alchemist. There is no wrong answer.

Bella Thorne: Ghost Girl by Tonya Hurley was really important in my life with my dyslexia to feel the joy of reading.

GWN: Girls Write Now is working on a “count” to see what girls are reading in school vs. what they want to be reading—and if there’s a disconnect. What do you remember reading at school? What do you read now on your own?

BT: I don’t really recall what books I read in school in earlier years. My dyslexia didn’t allow for it to be a fun time in school. I read books privately.

GWN: What are your hopes and dreams for girls searching to find their voices (and their confidence)?

BT: My hope is that all girls get treated equally and understand that it is ok to be different and that they are just as good as anyone else. Everyone has the right to be heard. My dream for ALL girls around the world is that they develop confidence to share their creativity and wisdom with others. I believe we are all special and that girls should stick together. I believe if we are all supportive of other females, we can make big changes in the world.

GWN: What would be your advice for them?

BT: My advice is to stay true to yourself and don’t lose your individuality.

For more about Bella and Autumn Falls, visit her official website.

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Required Reading: VIDA & Girls Write Now

This post was written by Lynn Melnick, the social media and outreach director for VIDA, and originally appeared on VIDA’s website.

This year, Girls Write Now is counting. A mentorship program that pairs established writers with teenage girls from underprivileged areas and underserved schools in New York City, Girls Write Now has long influenced our next generation of women writers.

Beginning this fall, and in tandem with their event for the United Nation’s “Day of the Girl” celebration, which includes a reception and roundtable discussion on a girl’s right to write with panelists from Penguin Random House, Little, Brown and Tumblr, Girls Write Now, with help from VIDA, undertook to collect information on what their young mentees are reading in school, as well as what the mentors remember reading in school.

Maya Nussbaum, Founder & Executive Director of Girls Write Now, says: “At Girls Write Now, we are interested in what resonates with our girls, whether it’s on their school list or books they’re reading on their own. We incorporate the classics into our curriculum and we expose them to new, fresh, diverse authors, including writing from our mentors and supporters, such as Tayari Jones, Christina Baker Kline, Roxane Gay and a host of others.”

The initial results are already in! Mentors remember reading the standard white, male canon for the most part; the girls are still reading a lot of these same classics (Shakespeare, Lord of the Flies by William Golding, Of Mice & Men by John Steinbeck), but there are several books written by women that do seem to be surfacing in schools now fairly consistently, includingThe Color Purple by Alice Walker, Beloved by Toni Morrison and The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston.

With this progress in mind, the girls will be adding to their lists throughout the year, perhaps with a new attention toward what they are being taught and why, and how that impacts the culture at large.

One mentee, a junior, had this to say of the two books on her reading list so far this year: “I can connect to Catcher in the Rye and the main character Holden because of how Holden views society and innocence. I connect to Maya Angelou’s [book] and her message.”

Other mentees were concerned with diversity. Even though there does seem to be some effort made to diversify these reading lists, there are only a handful of names being repeated, rather than a range of diverse voices. Another mentee, a senior, describes the problem succinctly: “Sherman Alexie is the only native American author out there, all three times I’ve searched Native Americans he’s the only author we’ve read.”

The mentees and their mentors are accepting of the canon, and glad for the education, but they are not unaware that they are reading from a white, male point of view. A young mentor, who remembers her most recent syllabus including The Great Gatsby, A Farewell to Arms, and Hamlet, sums it up well: “Yes, there are beautiful books about humans – I am a human. But there could have been better ladies.”

Stay tuned! We will have more on this project as the school year progresses. And here’s to the Day of the Girl!

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Robin Morgan, MAKERS, and Girls Write Now

We’re so proud to have Robin Morgan on our panel this Friday, October 10, as we celebrate the International Day of the Girl. Along with other inspiring women writers, editors, and activists, Robin will be discussing the current cultural conversations surrounding girls’ rights, and what it means to bear witness and enact change for girls around the globe. We have a few tickets left: Join us!

Robin’s MAKERS video is one of our favorites. MAKERS, like Girls Write Now, understands the power of a woman’s narrative — and fights to make sure it’s heard. Our own girls are working with MAKERS to interview each other, and participate in the largest video collection of women’s stories. (Stay tuned for our girls’ inspiring clips!)

It’s not an exaggeration to say we women wouldn’t be where we are today without Robin Morgan. Her feminist work, beginning as early as the 60s, paved the way for organizations, movements, and legislation aiming to give women equal footing. She’s the Founder and President of The Sisterhood Is Global Institute, recently co-founder of, and co-founder of The Women’s Media Center (check out a recent interview with Maya Nussbaum, Founder and Executive Director of Girls Write Now and Taysha Clark, our Youth Board Co-Chair). In 1990, she served as the Editor-in-Chief of Ms. magazine. It’s easy to see why we at Girls Write Now would be inspired by her, but we’ll just add another few reasons: she’s an award-winning poet, novelist, political theorist, journalist, editor, and best-selling author!

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From a Mentor’s Perspective: On Gratitude, Partnerships, and Finding the Right Path

This blog post was written by Annie Reuter, a mentor in our Digital Media Mentoring Program, who attended our 2014 mentor training.

Girls Write Now is a program I’ve been searching for all my life and finally found in my mid-20s. I never had a mentor growing up that paved the way for me and my passion for writing and it is something I have always desired.

I discovered Girls Write Now three years ago and while my role is to guide my mentee through writing, she also guides me. I remembered this as I settled into the familiar office of Girls Write Now on the 18th floor during Mentor Training and started talking with first year mentors.  While that room has been a haven for writing for me for three years now, I remembered how I, too, was nervous about entering the program.

Who would my mentee be? How will I help shape her love of writing? Where would we meet each week? All these fears were eventually squashed as I met fellow mentors with sound advice and my third-year mentee, who I felt was showing me the ropes of the program.

I was reminded of this as we went around the room during Mentor Training and introduced ourselves. Each mentor was well versed in writing and many returning mentors talked of the inspiration their own mentee has provided, like trying to write in different genres or crafting a screen play together. There were mentors who, like me, never had a mentor in their lives and others who pushed mentoring off so long that it took a medical scare to guide them in the direction of Girls Write Now.

After our introductions, we learned the program structure and were given interactive examples of how to handle various situations we might find ourselves in. Throughout it all, it became apparent that there is no right or wrong way to mentor. Most importantly, the program should create a fun environment to help develop a passion in writing. This can be done outside of the classroom by going on trips to a museum, galleries or even taking your mentee to a concert and then writing about it together.

As the training came to a close it was apparent that we all would be making a difference in our mentees lives and that they will make an impact on us as well. Most importantly, we must remain patient and compassionate while empowering her in our weekly pair sessions and workshops. Ultimately, 100% of the mentees in the Girls Write Now program will graduate high school and go onto college and our time with them can help foster a passion for writing into a lifetime career. This is something I know I wish I had growing up, but having found Girls Write Now later in life I am constantly reminded that being a writer is a career I am grateful for.


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New Beginnings: Fantasy Writing Workshop, Week 4

This post was written by Chana Porter, this month’s instructor for the Fantasy Writing Workshops

Writing a book is hard. A writer’s life is often lonely. The rush of an idea for a story is so inspiring, but most of writing is not simply channeling that pure inspiration. It’s sitting down, again and again, to revise and re-envision what was once so exciting. We have to fall in love again and again with our work.

For our final fantasy workshop at Girls Write Now, I had the pleasure of sitting with a group of young women who had all been working on long projects. Many of these amazing teenagers had been working on the same stories and books for years, something I had never attempted at such a young age.

We talked about the reasons we get blocked while writing, our ‘writer’s roadblocks’. Our reasons were various but all too similar- feeling overwhelmed by the mass of a project, unsure of how to give details organically or shift voices, or simply loosing the thread.

For the remaining hours, we unpacked tools and tips for becoming unstuck. The girls had just as many tips and writing exercises to share as I did.

My mentee for the past two years, Ashley Christie, has been working on an modern adaptation of The Color Purple for her entire time at Girls Write Now. It’s been a joy for me to watch her voice and nuance develop throughout the program and our time together. Here’s Ashley’s latest stab at an ending. I find it very beautiful:


Dear Journal,

My idea of trust is to know that even at my most vulnerable state someone will not take advantage of me. To be completely naked in front of someone, stripped physically, expressing myself mentally and giving myself spiritually. Is he capable of doing that for me? Sidney that is. He goes on so much about his everlasting feelings for me; can he handle me this way.

Loving someone is being there through all trials and having acceptance with everything that has happened. Has he really accepted me?

Though my values have changed a lot since Marcia has died I’m starting to realize what important again. It is not revenge. Yes, revenge has kept me sane for a while but I cannot continue to live my life this way. For I am a woman just like Eve; capable of changing the world.


Dear Mommy,

A house is temporary and is not comfortable. It usually filled with items that don’t mean anything to you. I walk into Sidney’s place and even while he’s there I feel alone. His blank white walls and grey furniture make me feel like I’m in a psycho-ward. The smell of Clorox doesn’t make the place welcoming either. I’m starting to realize that being with him isn’t actually where I want to be; its what I thought was the right thing to do. How do I break that to him? I’ve tried so hard to make things work: adding paintings on the wall, buying candles, colored pillows-nothing works. This place isn’t mine.

I remember walking home from school in the afternoons. I would take Park Pl. all the way down to Kingston Ave. and make a right and walk to the corner of sterling place. There our brownstone home stood. The purple hibiscus caught the attention of everyone who walked by; even I caught myself staring at them before I enter. Everyday I walked in to you in the kitchen cooking; “How was your day,” you would say with a pot in your right hand and the left reaching out to hug me. Such firmness you held me with. Your sweaty caramel cheeks would rub against mine and your long dark hard fly in my nose as in inhaled your cinnamon sweet aroma. I miss those days.


Chana Porter is a writer and teacher living in Brooklyn, New York. Her plays have been produced and developed in New York City by Rattlestick Playwright’s Theatre, Primary Stages, PS122, Dixon Place, True Love Productions, The Invisible Dog, and the White Bear in London. She has led classes and workshops in “Writing From The Body” as an artist-in-residence at Cave and Space on White, and as a guest teaching artist at Hampshire College. She is currently pursuing an M.F.A at Goddard College in Creative Writing and writing a series of Young Adult Science Fiction novels entitled New Human Classics.



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