Can’t wait to read the original work from this year’s class of BOLD writers? Check out these excerpts from Ctrl + B: The Girls Write Now 2019 Anthology. Thank you to Amazon Literary Partnership for their charitable contribution, to Dutton for their passion and dedication helping us produce the book, and to The Feminist Press for sponsoring the e-book. Your support makes it possible for us share the amazing stories of the next generation of women writers!
Mentee Gabrielle Galchen with her mentor Emily Barasch
What It’s Called
By Gabrielle Galchen
I thought that something bold would be something I rarely talk about. Thus, this is simply about who I think I am, who everyone else thinks they know, and how, ultimately, I’m okay with not quite knowing.
Like a slobbering bulldog, my breath came back at me hot and fussy as I hid behind my straightened hair and tassel. Struggling to remember the words to the national anthem at my eighth grade graduation, I resorted to mumbling nonsensical sentences somewhat in accordance with what the 150 other students in the auditorium were perfectly reciting. Amused, I eventually resorted to singing my own song, in rhythm with the dull beating of their chorus. When the song was over, we all sat down to listen to our principal give some clichéd speech about our transformation from buds to flowers. Inwardly sighing, I wondered how, during all fourteen years of turning into a so-called “flower,” I had heard the Israeli and American national anthems so many times that I had forgotten the lyrics to both! At the end of the ceremony, we all smiled as our parents bombarded us with taking photos, and the happy lines next to my eyes resembled the wrinkled and elusive petals that posed as my life.
When I was little, I had never thought much of who I was. Perhaps as a result of all the fantasy books I read obsessively, I considered my real life boring, simply because there was no magic in it. All I needed to know was enough scattered facts about myself to introduce myself on the first day of school—albeit so shyly that no one ever really heard me.
I’m not sure when being a mix started to bother me. Why would it in New York City, where everyone is from somewhere or the other, and all of us immigrants’ children are proud of our cultural heritage?
But at the end of the day, as my patriotic “born-and-raised in New York for generations” US history teacher repeatedly says: “We are all united as Americans!”
The confusing part is that this statement simultaneously disturbs and comforts me. Who is my US history teacher, really just a daily stranger, to force me into his neatly wrapped box, shining so red, white, and blue it blinds me? But at the same time, I guess he finally lets me say that I am most definitely American, without forcing me to question my very words as I say them.
To be labeled as one nationality or not; to be or not to be. It’s not the question, but my answer: the answer to all the questions I ask whenever I must think about things. This can be about things that vary in triviality, from the language I put my phone in to which family I will see the most to which war I will choose: the one of guns or missiles.
The answer is so far away that sometimes it seems fictitious. Maybe I would rather not be so pathetically half-baked, like someone haphazardly compiled a bunch of dreidels and Barbie dolls into what the modern world calls Israeli American. At least I can thank everyone else who thinks they know exactly who I am.
Maybe I should believe all those Israelis who call me American, and that one girl who asked me if I eat hamburgers every day because, after all, I live in America where everyone is fat. Or maybe I should listen to my fellow Americans who call me Israeli, and the embarrassingly high number of people who ask me how I speak English if I grew up speaking “Jewish”.
Maybe no one knows anything, but neither do I.
But when I found out that two girls in my grade disliked me for (somewhat) being from Israel, I realized: Perhaps my US history teacher was right. Maybe it’s better to be just American, and nothing controversial.
But why? Just because I’m Israeli doesn’t mean that I don’t also want to sob when I see Palestinians dying in Gaza. And just because someone is pro-Palestine doesn’t mean they should despise Israeli soldiers trying to protect their nation. But most importantly, just because two groups of people both want a home of peace and safety doesn’t mean they should kill for it.
Which is why it was all the more amazing when I made my first Muslim friend, and then best friend. We complain about boys just as we complain about how the conflict between our religions is so futile—especially when Abraham and Muhammad could have just been delusional, and other people simply followed them. In which case, though both of us believe in God, it would render the fact that 123 wars were fought solely because of religion absolutely terrifying.
What even is Israeli American? One girl’s self-identification means nothing when everyone already classifies her based off of a measly description, seeping into every double-pronged question like a poison.
Well, it means something to me, so here goes: If you got to know me, you would know that yes, I actually do love hamburgers, and no, I do not speak “Jewish”.
It’s called Hebrew, so kfotz li, or screw you.
Mentee Agustina Harris with her mentor Sarah Custen
By Agustina Harris
For lost children, it’s easy to find yourself in nature, accepting your past and realizing your future through something as simple as a crashing wave.
I look up from the garbage on the hot sand on this sultry day, gazing at the commotion on the boardwalk. A big group of skaters is speeding past everyone. ‘Looks like fun,’ I think, as I continue to pick up empty soda cans and cigarette butts. Sand keeps slithering its way into my off-white Converses; I can’t stand the dry friction anymore. I drop my trash bag and the stupid-grabby-thing the beach patrol gives out before sneaking off toward the water. With a quick glance around the beach, I see that the patrol members are busy enough, laughter erupting from the mouths of teens running around the beach instead of working. Kids will be kids.
I untie my shoes, the laces ripped and dirty, slipping them off along with my socks. There are monstrous waves far out, seeming to graze the vast horizon; rolling and rolling until dying out before they can even dream of reaching the sand. They look like me. I sit on the soggy sand, ‘squish squish’ it says as it holds my weight, molding to my form, how thoughtful… I stretch my legs out and lean back on my bandaid-covered fingers, grains of sand sticking against my sweaty skin in the cool winds. Eyes smiling at the ghostly clouds painting the sky. I close them, catching a glimpse of colorful spots dancing across my marble eyelids. A moment of peace… never lasted long in this world.
I feel something firm touch my foot. I open my eyes to a small money-green-colored turtle. It’s not moving; neither am I. Neither is the wind, nor is the water, for a split second. I scoot toward the turtle and spin it around, noticing the twisted beer can plastic around its neck and little floppy turtle arm. My eyes moisten and my back stiffens looking at the poor thing. I dig around in my pocket and take out my pocket knife, tangled in my headphones, the query ‘not so different?’ ringing in my mind. I slide out the knife, each ‘click click click’ hitting my ear gently, reminding me of a time I hope to forget. Carefully, I cut away at the plastic, making sure not to hurt Tommy. Tommy? Yes, I’ve named him Tommy the Turtle. I manage to get all the plastic off and Tommy starts to fidget and squirm. I gently place him down and he scurries off into the water, disappearing in an instant. I didn’t even get to say goodbye.
I feel a presence behind me and turn to see Kris, who’s been watching me. “Good job saving that turtle…” I see Kris around here a lot, drinking beers with his friends instead of being in class. I’ve even joined in a few times, but I never talk to him. His presence makes me feel so… sick. I look out to the sea, my mouth imagines the saltiness of the water. “Did I really save him?” I ask, my stomach spinning. Kris walks up next to me, I can see through the corner of my eye that he too has found himself in the sea. “I think you did…” I don’t think so. “I just gave him another chance to get stuck…” “Then someone else will be here to save him.” As if! “He wouldn’t need saving if it weren’t for people like you!” He looks down at me and puts a hand on my arm. “I have been trying to change, okay? I haven’t littered all week, you know this!” “Ugh, that’s not what I meant!”
I bring my knees to my chest and wrap my arms around them in annoyance. Kris steps next to me and sits down gently, trying his best not to look at me. His face is softened, the orange hues of the sunset bouncing off of his cheeks. This is the first real conversation we’ve ever had. Maybe it’s the first real conversation I’ve ever had at all? “I’m sorry, Kris.” I tilt my head up to see him, a slight grin on his face, before looking back to the sea. Atlantic? Pacific? I wouldn’t know, I failed geography. I slightly lean on Kris’ arm. The warmth is nice. The squawks of the seagulls complement the subtle distant crashing of waves. “Do you think we should go back to cleaning… before the patrol says something?” I ask, breaking a comfortable silence. “If you will, so will I.” I hear a slight break in his voice, it’s kind of soothing. ‘I’ll be fine’ I think, as I take a deep, clear breath.
Mentee Isabelle Sanderson with her mentor Kara Freewind
By Isabelle Sanderson
I have always been inspired by the idea of a 1950s era housewife who seizes power. However grotesque, stories like this make a bold attempt to change the narrative, creating a powerful female villain.
Once Nancy wore curly pigtails
with orange bows.
She used to imagine
- Marrying a Prince.
- Living in his perfect castle.
She was never as disappointed
as her wedding day.
Years later she lived
in a yellow house
with broken shingles
a dusty blue car
and a mouse-ish man in her bed.
Her face melted like wax
She slept only during the day
and at night
she would get things done.
she held a knife
(glints in moonlight)
(glints and reflections of streetlamps).
An ambulance eruption.
Her reflection in the window
a floating face above the potted violets
She was chopping something
when Tom came in.
“You like omelets, remember Tom?”
back to bed
devoid of a pacifier
or little plastic
to trip on.
another beige kitchen.
There is a different man hovering at the door
looking at greenish liquid upon broken countertops,
disregarded light purple shoes,
an ugly crying face,
snot and black streaks.
light purple pumps tremble
prone to falling,
press into palms.
A knock on a pale yellow door.
Talk is a dangerous thing.
And when Suzie Davids killed her husband with a carrot peeler,
Only an intention lags behind, slow,
Mentee Aminata Kargbo with her mentor Grace Ali
The Pink Hijab with Sparkles . . . I Wore Only Once
By Aminata Kargbo
Ctrl + B means being fearless and courageous in becoming who you want. It means not being afraid to open up and share who you are. This piece is my journey into becoming bold and confident.
During the last days of summer vacation, I was watching the television show “Teen Wolf” when my mother said to me, “You are about to go to high school in a few weeks. You will be old enough to wear a hijab.” My brain filled with many thoughts and I couldn’t focus on the show anymore.
Muslim women and girls are expected to wear a hijab while praying to cover their heads and display modesty. Many show their commitment to Islam by wearing a hijab every day, but I never considered myself to be that kind of Muslim, or that kind of girl. I immigrated to the United States as an eight-year-old and was surrounded by diverse cultures. This exposure pushed me to notice how my religion treats women. The Imam states, “Only women have to cover their bodies in public and only women are restricted from leading a prayer.” I started to believe that the Quran limits women from expressing themselves, and by doing that, makes men superior over women. Choosing to wear the hijab daily would mean I was accepting all of my religion’s restrictions and denying my womanist identity. If I decided not to wear a hijab, then other Muslims might think I wasn’t committed to my religion.
“Aminata!” My mother yelled. “Do you want to wear your hijab?” she asked a second time. I said I didn’t know. “It’s okay if you don’t know,” she said. Surprised, yet happy to hear her response, I told my mother about the doubts I had. She told me she had felt the same way when she converted to Islam. Hearing my mother express similar thoughts made me feel less isolated. She suggested that I could try wearing a hijab for one day when high school started to see if I liked it or not.
On September 9, 2015, I attended my first day of high school wearing a long, pink hijab covered in little sparkles. I felt uncomfortable, I felt I was using the hijab to hide from the world. I felt as if I couldn’t share my own perspective and ideas because I wasn’t the person people perceived me as—a “perfect” Muslim girl.
When I got back home after school, I went straight to my room to take off my hijab. I started to cry. I cried not because of other students or my classes, but because I was not myself. I felt like I was trapped inside a room for eternity, but when I removed my hijab I felt free. My mother came to my room to see if I was okay. I didn’t need to tell her about my day because she could see it in my eyes. She gently said, “Okay.”
The next day, I showed up to school with no hijab and my kinky African hair out in a bun. All eyes were on me during first period, especially on my hair. Later, a girl named Ashley approached me. She told me that she liked my hair. “Thank you,” I said. We soon talked about our backgrounds and experiences. I told her about my religion and the struggles I had with it. When I went home that day, I told my mom about my new friend. She asked if I was okay not wearing the hijab. I hadn’t even realized I wasn’t wearing it. I was just being me. I smiled at my mother and said, “Yes!”
I am Muslim and a womanist. Not wearing a hijab does not make me less Muslim, just as being Muslim does not make me less of a womanist. My choice makes me happy. And, I support the choices of other women and girls who choose to wear the hijab—as long as it makes them happy, too.