Final results are in from the Girls Write Now Count with VIDA!
Girls Write Now set out to learn more about the books that count with our girls. With the help of VIDA: Women in Literary Arts, we collected data about today’s current reading lists in New York City high schools, starting with the initial Girls Write Now Count in the fall of 2014. Turns out the canon is still alive and well with the classics dominating the current reading lists in schools, but we’re also seeing a more diverse group of books making their way into schools’ curriculum. Another pleasant surprise, and one we’re buoying with our curriculum, is that our girls tell us they love reading poetry and want to learn about more new poets coming into the market.
Here, a quick glance at what we’re seeing from our 2014-2015 count:
The familiar classics by male writers are securely planted on today’s high school school reading list, including Beowulf by Seamus Heaney, Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare, Oedipus the King by Sophocles, The Crucible by Arthur Miller, Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck, The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald and other familiar titles.
The new angle we found interesting is that a selection of diverse books are making their way onto the list, such as Dreams from My Father by Barack Obama, The Savage Detectives by Roberto Balaño, The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion, A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini, Before We Were Free by Julia Alvarez, The Absolutely True Story of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie, From the Notebooks of Melanin Sun by Jacqueline Woodson, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz, The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien, and more!
Many girls filled out the survey touting their passion for poetry, including this mentee who said: “I definitely read more poetry, like Dorothea Lasky, and also short stories — because of Girls Write Now.”
Recent keynotes for the CHAPTERS Reading Series this spring also expressed their love for poetry. Our March keynote, Tiphanie Yanique, author of Land of Love and Drowning, referenced Claudia Rankine as a favorite read when she was a teen. Tiphanie also referenced Edwidge Danticat’s Breath, Eyes, Memory. “It blew my mind,” she told us. Our April keynote speaker, Emily St. John Mandel, author of Station Eleven, said: “Since I was eight I would write short stories and poems.” As a teen, Emily loved reading Lord of the Rings and The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper.
With data and inspiring anecdotes from our count in hand, we went to the source for a comment. Lynn Melnick, from VIDA: Women in Literary Arts and editor of the recently released Please Excuse This Poem: 100 New Poets for the Next Generation supplied this feedback to Girls Write Now about our findings:
“I love that more Girls Write Now writers are exploring poetry! I think young people have always been passionate writers of poetry — but often the poetry they are taught in the classroom feels irrelevant to their lives and maybe turns them off to both reading and writing it. If our joint Girls Write Now/VIDA syllabus count had any part in drawing these young writers towards (or back towards) poetry — well, that’s thrilling to me both personally and professionally.”
Our mentees sum up the count:
- “Before seeing all these super smart and awesome women of color writers, I thought white men were taught in schools because they were the only ones who were good. I know that this is not true now.”
- “Because of Girls Write Now I have a homemade library in my shared room, and there’s so much that I can’t even pick which books to start reading. It’s crazy.”
- “Schools are trying to be more diverse; it’s a slow process but progress is happening. I can connect with the books because they are about basic human nature, good versus evil, downfalls or excessive pride. It would be amazing to see female authors since the only female author we read in school was Edith Wharton.”
VIDA, our reliable literary watchdog, has been tallying up their own count to see how many women writers are represented in magazine and newspapers. They commented on their recent results in relation to Girls Write Now:
The results of 2014’s VIDA Count are encouraging; more magazines and journals are publishing with a mindfulness toward a diversity of voices. Still, as our inaugural WoC VIDA Count shows, we have a long way to go when it comes to women of color in the literary world. Having the girls of Girls Write Now conduct their own counts in their classrooms is crucial, as awareness of gender and racial imbalance is necessary in order to overcome it.