This blog post was written by Sophie Hayssen, Communications and Development Intern.
On Friday, June 15, Girls Write Now held the culminating event of our 20th Anniversary Spring Celebrations and the final CHAPTERS reading of the season. Seated in the New York Historical Society’s auditorium, audience members heard the best original pieces from this year’s mentees, spanning genres from fiction to poetry, and topics like social media, depression, and racial identity. At the end of the night, we celebrated the night’s readers and this year’s graduating seniors.
While these seniors may now officially be alums of Girls Write Now, their graduation marks only the beginning of what is for many a lifelong relationship with their mentors. Take the night’s emcees: alumnae pair Lashanda Anakwah (mentee) and Rachel Cohen (mentor) who talked about how they job-searched together, supported each other through the process, and both received amazing offers across the street from each other: Lashanda at Simon & Schuster, and Rachel at the Wall Street Journal. They meet up for lunch all the time!
Both of the night’s guest speakers, Jennifer Rudolph Walsh, Worldwide Head of Literary Speakers and Conferences Division at WME, and author and poet Jenny Zhang, spoke about the contrast between the perspectives of their younger selves and adult selves. Jennifer focused on how difficult it was for her to thrive in high school, leading her to get kicked out, and prematurely labeled as a failure. However, once she got to college, she was exposed to new ways of thinking that helped inspire her to channel her passion for discovering great writing into an incredibly successful career.
In addition to reading excerpt from her short story collection Sour Heart, Jenny talked about how her childhood fantasies buffered the difficulties of her life as a young immigrant from China, illustrated through a story about a pair of underwear(!) that mysteriously appeared in her elementary school classroom. At the time, Jenny considered it her special ability to discover the underwear each time it reappeared, but later realized that the underwear had a less magical origin. To escape the cold of her unheated house, she changed so quickly out of her pants each night her old underwear got caught inside them, only to fall out of the bottom of her pant leg the next day at school. While Jenny may not have had special underwear-summoning abilities, her story ultimately revealed the power of telling stories and living inside one’s head as both a coping mechanism and a way to feel special.
The theme of the younger self was echoed in Lashanda and Rachel’s Q&A the guest speakers prior to the event. When asked what advice the would give to teen girls today, Walsh emphasized the importance of not stressing yourself out by only trying to achieve goals beyond your reach, but, rather, to “try easier” by paying attention to the opportunities that are already open to you. Zhang encouraged girls to “nurture the wildness in their own heart” by rejecting the notion that women should be polite and demure and embracing the ragged, unfiltered parts of themselves.
From the guest speakers’ remarks to the mentees’ readings, this sentiment echoed throughout the night, filling the auditorium with the warmth, love, and acceptance that is at the core of the Girls Write Now experience.
Check out more photos from June CHAPTERS here