WriteGirl Gives Young Writers A Voice
- March 15th, 2011
- 2 Comments
After 9/11, Keren Taylor decided she wanted to do something meaningful with her work. She had been a songwriter and poet, and wanted to use her skills in service to others. She started WriteGirl to help at-risk students to build confidence as writers. The program pairs girls with professional writers for one-on-one mentoring and monthly group writing workshops. At the end of the year, girls submit their writing for inclusion in an anthology — seeing their work in print is a huge step in solidifying their confidence.
WriteGirl is celebrating its 10th anniversary with the release of its 10th anthology of participants’ work, Beyond Words: The Creative Voices of WriteGirl. In the past decade, the program’s books have earned more than 25 awards from the National Indie Excellence Awards, the New York Book Festival, the Independent Publisher Book Awards…the list goes on.
I spoke with Keren to discuss the program, the girls, and her plans for the next decade.
Ypulse: How do you connect with the girls in the program?
Keren Taylor: We’re in the schools. English teachers and other teachers tell us who can most benefit from the program. They know the girls who have an interest in writing and poetry but aren’t doing great in class. They’re at risk of dropping out. But other girls hear about us because we’re on the web, so we have a mix. Some girls are from Beverly Hills, some are from East LA, and that’s really the best. They learn from each other.
We train professional writers to be mentors, and then pair them with the girls. They meet once a week at Starbucks, a community center, or a library. It can be a challenge to get the girls involved at first. They don’t have a phone at home, or its their brother’s cell phone, and they don’t have email…it can take several attempts to contact them to get them to come to the workshops, but once they do, they’re hooked. Some are in the program for three or four years.
Each monthly workshop focuses on a different theme — fiction, journalism, dialog/character development (which is essentially script writing), journal writing, creative non-fiction. This month we’re doing songwriting.
YP: I understand that singers actually perform the girls’ songs — that’s very cool! I hope you get all that on video!
KT: We do! We have tons of footage, but because of limited manpower, much of it hasn’t been put online. We have a YouTube channel with clips and instructional videos that girls can use outside the workshops.
YP: Let’s talk about the book. Do all of the girls who participate get published?
KT: That’s the intention, but it doesn’t always work out that way. They need to submit pieces for inclusion, and usually we can include each of them.
YP: The book is mostly poetry and few short stories, but you cover a wide range of writing styles with girls. Why did you choose to focus on poetry?
KT: We have a word limit for submissions because we want to publish as many girls as possible and feature their work alongside their mentors’. The girls mostly submit their poetry. Poetry lends itself more to short form. Plus, the girls really take to poetry — it gives them more free range of expression. They don’t have to say exactly what they’re thinking (like, “I hate my mom,” which is a very personal and weighty statement), but they can allude to it. Our poetry workshop is always the most popular because they can get very creative. Crafting short stories or carving out excerpts from their work is harder.
YP: What are your plans for the next decade? Do you have plans to expand beyond LA?
KT: We focus on LA because we have close ties to the community, and there are so many more girls we could be helping here. But, we do want to expand. We offer a curriculum for writing teachers with lesson plans that mirror our workshop techniques. We are also thinking of doing hybrid workshop events in schools with teachers and mentors. School-based programs are easier to replicate.
We are also putting together a co-ed program, because boys need writing too. We’re calling it “Bold Ink” — “WriteGirl” didn’t quite fit! We’re recruiting male mentors. The first part of the program will have boys and girls work separately with their mentors because they need the space to express themselves without worrying about who will see or hear what they’re saying. Then we’ll bring them together for the second part of the program, and the girls and boys will choose what they want to share in a mixed group.
YP: I’m sure you have many partners that help you in your mission.
KT: We have so many companies that donate. They give money, but they also donate journals, photocopy and printing services, and other gifts that the girls get at the end of workshops. They also donate food, which is very important. For some girls, the meals they have at our workshops are the best meals they’ll have all month.
We also have an annual fundraiser that we’re gearing up for right now. It’s called the Bold Ink Awards where we honor five authors and hold a silent auction.
YP: How are the girls doing after they exit the program?
KT: They are starting to graduate college, which is amazing because these were girls who were at risk of never finishing high school. We will need to focus more on alumni relations in the future because they’re going far and are involved in very exciting things. Perhaps the most satisfying effect is that several are interested in working for non-profits and making their lives of service to others.