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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!

Press

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.

KirbyQuote

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

Brant Instore

Chelsea Wine Vault

Exhale Spa

Franco Vitella Catered Affairs

Guggenheim

Intrepid Museum

Megan Henry (Creative Designer)

Muneesh Jain (Photographer)

Rooftop Films

Taylor Creative Inc.

Tom Hunt (Videographer)

Tishman Speyer

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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 GlobalSister.org, 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:

BEGINNING

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.

FINAL CHAPTER

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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GWN Author Profile: Bridgett M. Davis and Into the Go-Slow

Time Out named her one of ten NYC authors to read right now. Tayari Jones, author of Silver Sparrow and Leaving Atlanta calls her ”a brilliant writer, a soulful artist, and a true citizen of the world.”

A tremendous writer with an incredible presence, we’re confident that Bridgett M. Davis is going to create some serious waves with her new novel, Into the Go-Slow. A highly anticipated second novel, Feminist Press published it this week and we’ve been tearing through it. Set in 1986, the book spans oceans—moving between Detroit and Nigeria. It’s a powerful story of a young woman traversing  the boundaries of her identity, a country on the brink of civil war, and the cultural implications of Nigeria’s notorious traffic (the go-slow). Buy a copy today!

Bridgett, a Detroit native herself, is driven by a similar fire as Girls Write Now. As a champion of a proud space to write and “a major advocate for promoting and nurturing literary talent by people of color,” she is the Books Editor for the black culture site Bold As Love Magazine, the founder and curator for the popular Brooklyn reading series, Sundays @; and a founding member of ringShout, a group dedicated to celebrating and promoting ambitious literary work by African American writers. Her articles have appeared in The Philadelphia Inquirer, the Atlanta Journal/Constitution, The Washington Post, Essence, O, The Oprah Magazine, TheRoot.com, The Chicago Tribune, and The Detroit Free Press. She holds even more accolades! Her first novel, Shifting Through Neutral, which the Washington Post called a “beautifully rendered first novel,” was a Borders Books “Original Voices” selection and a finalist for the 2005 Zora Neale Hurston/Richard Wright LEGACY Award.

In short, Bridgett is everything we’re about, and we’re so proud to call her a member of our community. We’re thrilled she’ll be joining us on October 10th to celebrate the International Day of the Girl and a girl’s right to write. In her own words: ”I care so much about this issue of girls’ lives around the world, of the power of narrative to change their lives, and the value of educating them.” 

Bridgett M. Davis at the Girls Write Now offices this summer

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Thank You, O Magazine!

This summer, O, The Oprah Magazine hosted a book sale to benefit Girls Write Now. Already fans, we were blown away by the support and generosity of their staff, and the rest of Hearst employees. Sarah Meyer, an Assistant Books Editor at O, remarked, “The choice of whom to donate the modest proceeds of our book sale to seemed obvious: GWN! As a community of writers and readers, O Magazine is proud to support the mission of mentoring young female writers, and I know I speak for everyone at the magazine when I say how impressed we are by the quality and diversity of programs GWN offers.”

From all of us at Girls Write Now: thank you! All proceeds will go straight to our girls.

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Beyond High School: Where GWN Takes You

Each year, we send our graduating seniors out into the world with a polished portfolio, a sense of ownership over their creative voice, and a bank of memories. But the GWN story doesn’t end there. You can find our mentee-alums translating the next great poem in a university library, fighting for human rights, leading our Youth Board, or launching a children’s book series.

See what some of our stellar alumnae are up to!

Taysha Clark and Natalia Vargas-Caba are our new Youth Board Co-Chairs. Join us in congratulating them! We rely heavily on the support, creativity, and guidance from our Youth Board members to drive our curriculum and community building. They’re beyond impressive leaders!

Taysha is a rising junior at Barnard College, where she is majoring in Political Science and Human Rights with a minor in Sociology and Race and Ethnic Studies. Outside the classroom she’s a mentor, writer, and activist—not only serving as our Co-Chair, but also as the President and Founder of the Barnard College Civil Liberties Club. She’ll also be speaking about a girl’s right to write as a panelist during our International Day of the Girl celebration on October 10th. She says of Girls Write Now and her new position:

“Girls Write Now has been my family since my last year of high school. I never expected to be a part of such an important organization, community and am so grateful! I found out about GWN my junior year of high school when my English teacher, Ms. Cordil, hunted me down and told me to apply. My mentor, Mayuri, and the GWN community provided a safe space where I felt comfortable sharing myself completely and using my writing as a means to express my opinion on contentious issues. I wouldn’t have found my voice in my writing, the courage to speak my raw words, without GWN.

Girls Write Now sees potential in people, in young writers, that can sometimes be too easy to lose sight of. I will continue to challenge myself as a writer, a person, and have my words leave a legacy — and I attribute that to GWN, which has been one of the most amazing support systems, families, and communities I have ever been a part of.

I hope to give as much to GWN as it has given to me, and I’ll begin that with my dedication to the Youth Board and all of Girls Write Now’s endeavors. In short: I love GWN!”

Taysha Clark and Mayuri Chandra pair photo

Taysha Clark and her mentor Mayuri Chandra

Natalia is a 2007 mentee-alum who is still driven to raise the young voices of our female writers. Before serving as our Co-Chair, she was a Programs Intern with us. She is in her second year at Sarah Lawrence College where she studies Creative Writing and Spanish, and aims to become a translator for Spanish poetry and fiction. You may  find Natalia hidden in the quiet, protective walls of an undiscovered cafe sipping hot green tea with Rimbaud’s words on hand. Reflecting on her GWN journey:

“In 2004, I joined Girls Write Now as an introverted teenager who never felt her place growing up in the Bronx. I attended an at-risk high school where I was an outcast among my peers, but I did not expect that I would bloom into the fearless writer I am now. Today, I am still involved to give back for all the wonderful opportunities Girls Write Now gave me, by working with the Youth Board developing workshops and fun events. Connecting with our current mentees brings me back to my time, and we join hands as a silenced minority bursting with knowledge. They are our words, and no one else can take them away.”

The Girls Write Now story extends further: our mentee-alums are publishing! Antonia Bruno recently completed a children’s book, co-written with her parents. Josie and the Fourth Grade Bike Brigade was inspired by the activism of the students of P.S. 321 in Brooklyn where my mom is assistant principal. The series aims to teach kids about global warming and encourage them to take action in their community. Children can continue learning about the environment through Josie’s blog, work toward change in their own communities through the “Josie Challenge,” and stay involved through upcoming launch events. Learn more about the series, order a copy, and join Josie as a crusader against climate change!

We asked Antonia about her time at Girls Write Now, and echoing Natalia and Taysha’s remarks, she shared this story with us:

“Girls Write Now came at a perfect time in my life. I was fourteen when I started, and self-doubt was beginning to shadow my love of writing. As a kid I had excitedly shown all my writing to my parents, and their approval was all I needed, but by high school I stopped showing my writing to anyone; I didn’t think it was good enough to share. Girls Write Now changed that for me. It was just the space that my teenage self needed. A space where everything I wrote was appreciated and respected. The feeling that I belonged with talented teenage writers and professional women made me take my own writing seriously, and propelled me over the hump of high school and all its power to kill a girls confidence.”

We’re so proud to continue to play a role in the lives of our alumnae, and we can’t wait to see what they accomplish next!

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