Can’t wait to read the original work from this year’s class of talented writers? Check out these excerpts from our upcoming anthology, Generation F: The Girls Write Now 2018 Anthology. Also, read Ashley Ford’s Foreword and Samhita Mukhopadhyay’s Introduction, both below. Then buy your own copy or the e-book at Amazon. We are grateful to Amazon Literary Partnership for their charitable contribution; for Dutton for their passion and dedication helping us produce the book; to The Feminist Press for helping us produce the e-book. We could not do this without you!
by Raibena Raita
Just like how the Vietnam War defined the ’60s and the Cold War defined the ’70s, terrorism defines our generation.
On October 31, 2017, there was a terror attack in downtown Manhattan, on the West Side Highway bike path. On November 1, 2017, the New York Times published a front page article by Benjamin Mueller, William K. Rashbaum, and Al Baker, with the subhead “‘Cowardly Act of Terror,’ Mayor Declares”. Mayor de Blasio classified it as an act of terror because of the supposed affiliation that attacker Sayfullo Saipov had with ISIS and, most importantly, because of the words he yelled out (“Allahu Akbar”) as he carried out the attack.
I was there when this tragedy occurred, in art class at Stuyvesant High School. When a lockdown was first declared at 3:05 p.m., my classmates and I shrugged it off. We thought it was just a drill, so we continued with class. We were on the tenth floor, the farthest from the chaos occurring below us. We didn’t even realize there was anything wrong until, through the window in front of my desk, we saw the stretch of the West Side Highway covered with bright red and blue lights. My classmates and I immediately took out our phones, frantically surfing the Web to find out what had occurred right under our noses.
For the next couple of hours, as we were stuck in our classrooms until the lockdown was lifted, my classmates and I looked up article after article and shared them among ourselves. There was a constant stream of new information. We read about how the attacker had slammed into a school bus and then pulled out two guns; later, those guns were found to be fake. The story kept changing and we kept researching, terrified as the body count increased.
At 5:00 p.m., the mayor and other city officials held a press conference concerning what had occurred two hours beforehand, and my class silently watched it, still unable to leave the building. I was passively listening, not entirely focused on the screen in front of me. Then a reporter asked, “Do we know if the attacker yelled out ‘Allahu Akbar’ or anything of the sort?” After the mayor confirmed he had, everything—the conversation and its tone, the way people viewed the situation and the perpetrator—shifted. The headlines of every article changed “shooter” or “deranged driver” to “terrorist,” and experts on CNN began exclaiming that this was a confirmed terrorist attack because of the phrase that had passed through the lips of the criminal.
As I watched CNN after the press conference, the feeling of wanting to go home hit me hard. But I couldn’t. Instead I sat at my desk, silently crying, the Eid salwar kameez that I had worn as a princess costume for Halloween suddenly unbearably heavy. For me, this was a terrorist attack when I first found out about the atrocity. This was a terrorist attack as the death toll kept rising. This was a terrorist attack before I knew about the Saipov’s affiliation with ISIS. For the media and the rest of the world, however, this wasn’t a terrorist attack until they knew that he yelled “Allahu Akbar.”
Nowadays, while most people don’t believe every Muslim is a terrorist, it’s generally accepted that every terrorist is Muslim. That’s why the Las Vegas shooter who killed dozens of people was not called a terrorist and instead called a “gunman;” he was a white Christian, not a brown Muslim. While both events were atrocities, calling one a “shooting” and the other a “terrorist attack” changes the dynamic of how we see the events. A shooting is tragic, but a terror attack is seen as something more personal—it is seen as an attack on your country.
When people equate terrorists with Muslims, it allows them to discriminate against Muslims. This is why despicable policies such as the travel ban exist and why people support them. Our belief of who a “terrorist” is needs to change; when we resort to such terrible stereotypes, it separates us from each other.
The lockdown was finally lifted around 7:00 p.m. Each floor was cleared and dismissed one by one; I was one of the last students to leave the building. I met up with Fariya, a sophomore and a family friend who lives near me, and her two friends, and we all went home together. When we were two-thirds of the way to the City Hall R/W train station, my mother called me back, having missed my three phone calls to her. I explained to her that I was out of the building with Fariya and her friends, and I was on my way to the train station. She asked me if the attacker was Muslim; I hesitated before answering affirmatively. “You three girls stick close and keep your heads down, okay? Be careful,” my mother instructed. This wasn’t the first time my mother had told me to do this, but it was one of the first times I agreed with her.
An Anxious Child of God
by Sarah Ramirez
Over the past year, I’ve become more aware of my anxiety and its control over my life. For me, writing about it was the first step to confronting it.
I spend a lot of time being anxious about my own anxiety. So when my Sunday school teacher, Ruth, announced one day that we were going to talk about anxiety, I thought to myself, Finally.
“What is everyone worried about?” Ruth asked the class.
“College . . . where I’m going to end up,” one girl said.
The person next to her nodded. “My future in general.” I agreed; I often feel nervous about the uncertainty of the future. Sometimes, I feel like I’m entwined with this anxiety, and I let it define my identity, because without it, I wouldn’t know who I am.
My turn came. “How people perceive me?” I said, feeling unsure if I should be sharing something so personal. Immediately, I felt self conscious. Ruth came up to me, put her hand on top of my head, and looked into my eyes. “Sarah, you are beautiful and intelligent, and I love you,” she said. My hands were trembling. I was touched, but my initial feelings of self-consciousness lingered.
All the usual anxious thoughts rushed through my head. I shouldn’t have said that. Why did I say “perceive?” I could’ve just said “see.” Now I look pretentious and they’ll all think that I think I’m smarter than them. I should’ve given the same answer as everyone else, about the future, I mean, it still would’ve been true.
“Anxiety is holding people in this very room back,” Ruth said, as if she had read my mind. I felt like her words were meant for me. Listening to her, I realized that all my life anxiety has held me back from attaining a full relationship with God—one where I can depend on him completely. My anxious thoughts have also held me back from seizing various opportunities, because fear of embarrassment and failure always overpowered anything else.
I’ve been in the Christian church my whole life and I am surrounded by faith-filled people, not only in church, but in my family as well. I’ve seen the evidence of having a strong faith in my mother’s life. In 2008, she was diagnosed with breast cancer and was supposed to undergo a double mastectomy. But when the surgeons scanned her one last time, the tumor had disappeared. In the face of this scary diagnosis, she put everything in God’s hands and was calm doing so. “My God is bigger than cancer,” she said confidently. Her faith was formidable. My faith is weak in comparison. It wavers when any hint of a problem comes my way. I want to be optimistic, but it’s hard to stop imagining possible worst case scenarios. People oftentimes use the words “joy” and “optimism” to characterize me, from friends to supervisors and teachers. However, when dwelling on negativity, there is no sight of this beloved joy. It’s stolen from me, and I can’t see myself in this same light. I become unrecognizable.
But since that day with Ruth in Sunday school, I’ve been working on it. I’ve found refuge and guidance in the Bible. Recently, I was reading the book of Romans when I came across these words: “Do not let sin control the way you live . . . Instead, give yourself completely to God . . . Sin is no longer your master.” I read the verse over and over again, replacing the word “sin” with “anxiety.” Suddenly, I could see the oppressive role of anxiety in my life. I’d made it into my master, too paralyzed by fear to stray away from it.
This verse reminds me that God is my true master who has come to liberate me from my anxiety. It’s comforting to know who I belong to—a sovereign God who has infinite power over anxiety and total authority over my future.
I’m realizing that as a child of God, I must surrender the things I can’t control over to Him, having faith that He will take care of me. Instead of grounding my identity in anxiety, I’m grounding it in being a precious child under God’s perfect love.
TO honour your roots
by Carolyn Schmit
This piece was written for the generations workshop, as an appreciation of my grandfather, but it became a much bigger project over the past months as Amanda and I researched, wrote, and edited it together.
You came here by sea. You stood on the railing of the SS Himalaya, looking down at all who came to bid you farewell. At least fifty of them came, all of your cousins and your aunts and your uncles and even the little boys down the street you’d played cricket with. You left your whole world behind you that night. You watched as the Taj Mahal hotel got smaller and smaller, and then you watched it disappear. Your grandma was there; you never saw her again. You used to be so close.
While growing up in India, you always wanted to leave your little suburban neighbourhood which was too small and slow, too mundane. You wanted to leave when you, who taught yourself English, had ranked amongst the top English-speaking students in the Bombay state. When you’d work work work in the fields like all the other boys and girls but all you could think about was a world where you’d work work work, but not like this. No more riding your metal bike to that same dirt field, every morning, working under the same sun until evening. Instead you’d get into the subway each morning, amongst all the other men and women in black and white suits, and then you’d take a deep breath and stride into that tall building. Onto greater things you’d always wanted to go.
You rode the SS Himalaya to London. Oh how your father would laugh if he saw you here amongst the English, them greeting you and attending to your bags. Only thirty years ago, he was temporarily jailed by the British for marching alongside Gandhi. Your father had always had stories to tell and when he did, it was as if the winds would quiet down and the babies would stop crying and for a while, everyone would just listen.
After departing the boat in London, you flew to New York City. In this “new world” of opportunities, New York was a world all on its own. Alone, you took a cab to the YMCA and for three dollars a night, you stayed there. That first night, you had entered the Empire State Building and the elevator you rode up was filled with you, a Chinese couple and a middle-aged French man and it was humming with freedom so as soon as the doors opened you flung yourself out and you rushed to the edge and as you stood and looked out, it felt like you were still flying.
On your second day in this new esteemed world, it was raining, and when you smiled at a lady on the train, she clutched her handbag closer to her chest. Did she not know of the work your family back in India had done to earn their wealth? When people made fun of your accent you wondered, do they not realize you taught yourself English at the age of 14? “My elite status in India did not apply here in the United States,” you wrote in your diary.
When I came to New York City, I came by car. I was 14, and I had my mom, my dad, my sisters. I had my cousins, a couple hours away. I had you, a couple hours away. My dad and I walked the streets that first night and I looked at all the different people. All the stories they must have to tell and cultures they must bring. People like you.
When you flew into your new life, you had no idea what it would bring. You had no idea the prices you’d have to pay. Would you have left if you’d known? Your grandmother, your beloved grandmother who’d made you warm milk with honey under grey growling skies. Your grandma who made you listen to bollywood music (you always have it playing in your home today). Your grandma who’d picked you up and tended to your scabbed knees and kissed them and then sent you back out to play. You never saw her again after boarding that ship. She sang to you a song that day. A prayer. She told you to sing it if you ever felt lonely, homesick. You scratched the lyrics into a piece of paper and you sang that song to yourself over and over on that boat, till it was buried deep in your mind.
When you talk about moving here, you say you did it for us. I used to wonder if there really was that connection, because it was you who left your home and your family, in their house of brick and mud, on a boat that night. Now, I realize that you exist as a bridge between two lands. That this story starts with you. That maybe in a way, all of my stories begin with you.
by Ashley C. Ford
Before I sold a book, wrote an essay, or even knew I wanted to be a writer, I was defiant. As a toddler, when I did not want to be held, I would not be held. In fact, when an adult would try to hold me, I would head-butt them until they let me go. When my mother, at her wits’ end with my antics, would attempt to tame me by strapping me into my car seat, I would rock back and forth until the seat tipped all the way forward. Then I would walk around with the whole contraption on my back, continuing my path of destruction through whoever’s home I happened to be in at the time. My grandmother started to call me “Turtle” because she thought the car seat on my back looked like a tortoise shell. She would smile when she’d tell me these tales.
“Ashley, you never liked doing what you were told. I guess you just knew yourself.”
My grandmother was right. Few people like being told what to do, but it went deeper than that for me. I didn’t like being told I didn’t know my own mind. I didn’t want anyone else feeling as though they had a right to touch me if I didn’t want to be touched. And most important, I knew all my goals, dreams, and desires lived somewhere inside me that only I had access to. So when the adults in my life encouraged me to play it safe, I continued to resist them. I majored in English even when I was told I’d never make a living with that degree. I moved to Brooklyn with two bags, $400, and no permanent place to live. I started writing my opinions, first hesitantly, then with all the defiant fury I hadn’t been allowed to express until then.
But that was only the beginning.
Almost one year to the day after moving to New York, I got to meet several young women through Girls Write Now. They were brilliant and creative. They read stories that lingered in my mind for months, and asked questions I hadn’t even thought to ask myself. One young woman spoke of her mother, who had encouraged her to write the feelings she couldn’t yet speak. Still, she found the courage to read her story aloud before us all, and in her eyes I saw something familiar: defiance. Not the kind of defiance that takes the place of what you can’t or won’t say, but the kind that allows you to say exactly what you mean. She’d found strength in her words, and I found inspiration in her.
Girls Write Now has put together a book of the young women who have something to say. The same young women we all are or have been before. I am so excited for you to find yourself in the pages of this book. We’re all here, in every word, and in every story, connected by the inherent defiance of girlhood. Enjoy it.
Ashley C. Ford lives and works in Brooklyn by way of Indiana, hosts a local news-and-culture show called 112BK, and is currently writing her memoir, Somebody’s Daughter.