Another writing program we're considering donating our anthology proceeds to is WriteGirl. I had the honor of interviewing Keren Taylor, the Executive Director and a Mentor for the program:
LL: Can you tell us about WriteGirl? What is your mission, and how did you get started?
KT: As a songwriter, poet, and freelance writer, I appreciate the power and versatility of the craft of language. While living in New York City, I helped establish a creative writing and mentoring organization for girls, and I saw first-hand what a tremendous impact it had on both the girls and the women involved – giving them self-confidence, new skills, new friends, and expanding their dreams and goals. When I moved to Los Angeles a few years ago, I wanted to continue to combine my love of writing with my community work. I put a notice out by email to various writers groups, gathered an initial leadership group of about 10 women, and launched WriteGirl in December 2001. It helped that I had just been made a casualty of the dot-com crash – suddenly I had time and peace to think about going in a whole new direction. Starting a nonprofit was not only appealing in terms of making a contribution to the community, but it challenged me to apply all my business and creative skills. I’m always up for a good challenge.
WriteGirl is designed to encourage self-expression and communication in several ways: weekly one-on-one sessions with a mentor, monthly writing workshops for all members (more than 100 women and girls in one room!), and the sharing of work at public readings and in our annual publication. We’ve created a safe, supportive environment that cultivates strong communication skills. We work hard to keep the program lively, engaging, and relevant to the lives of our members, as well as aligned with academic standards and goals. Over a nine-month period, roughly corresponding to the school year, I see girls and women really come out of themselves, take chances, try new things, and explore their ideas to the max.
LL: You mention the word "empowerment" in the introduction of your group website. What, for you, is the power of creative writing?
KT: We see a direct link between empowering a girl to develop her own voice and her confidence in herself. The more we encourage and support a girl's written ideas and perspectives, the more confident she becomes in herself, her choices, and her future. It’s amazing to see a girl enter WriteGirl as shy and withdrawn, or perhaps outgoing but a bit awkward, and see her in only a few months make an amazing transformation into a self-assured, well-spoken young woman.
LL: Can you tell us about some of your success stories?
KT: We have maintained a 100% success rate in not only helping girls in our Core Mentoring Program to graduate, but also ensure that they enroll in college, many as the first members of their family to do so. I have an email folder where I keep letters from mentees – unsolicited letters where they spontaneously share things they’ve learned or gained from WriteGirl. They’re like an espresso shot for me – I check them out when I need a lift.
We have WriteGirl alums at Dartmouth, San Francisco State, UCLA, Berkeley, Reed and many other colleges. It's exciting to know that we helped them get there, and even more exciting to hear about them graduating from college and wanting to pursue careers where they themselves could give back to their communities.
We are very grateful to our 140 women writers who volunteer their time to mentor our girls. We have a significant screening and training program to help find and prepare women writers to be effective mentors. In addition to our Core one-on-one Mentoring Program, we conduct weekly writing workshops in six schools in LA in critically at-risk neighborhoods such as Compton, Pico Rivera and South Los Angeles. These students are all either pregnant or parenting teens, and face all kinds of challenges personally, at home and in their neighborhoods. Some are on probation or have other significant behavioral issues. We have seen a direct impact on these students' academic standings through participation in WriteGirl creative writing workshops, and the resulting anthologies from these schools are very powerful and often surprising. They have many stories to tell, and we help them get them on paper and share them with each other and their families/communities through our books and public readings. We are very proud of the accomplishments of our In-Schools program.
LL: Is there anything else you'd like our readers to know about your group?
KT: We know that anywhere there are women writers, there are girls who need them. We look forward to expanding WriteGirl into other neighborhoods in Los Angeles, and eventually other cities. And as our alumni membership grows, we can’t wait to hear (and share) all their stories of achievement and success.
LL: Keren, thank you very much for taking the time to tell us more about your wonderful organization!