Monday, November 16, 2009


Happy Monday, everyone! There are only a few days left before December 1st if anyone is still thinking of entering our Genre Wars contest. We hope you do!

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!


  1. I have heard of WriteGirl and other programs dedicated to helping young people find their voices. I absolutely love programs where the key isn't necessarily to tutor them, but to help them find confidence in themselves and to be comfortable in their own skin. Any time that someone can find their own voice and find a passion, all the better for them, and all the better for our culture as a whole.

    I understand the reasoning behind having an all-female program like this, but does anyone know of a good all-male or coed program that helps young people find the pleasures of writing? I've been wholly unsuccessful at findind some place to volunteer my time. =/

    Great interview, I enjoyed hearing about your program.

  2. This looks like an amazing organization--I may have to find out if there's a Philly chapter! I already mentor several teen girls in a more informal way, and it has been a fantastic experience. It's surprising how a protege (sorry, I hate the made-up word "mentee") gives you a new zest for life, makes you dig into places in yourself that need to grow, and can be your cheerleader when you're plagued with self-doubts.

  3. Ken,
    This isn't exactly what you are looking for, but there's an organization called Young Voices that is co-ed and nurtures writing:

    I'm just becoming aware of these various organizations myself, so I do hope to find others!

    First off, thanks for volunteering your time for a worthy cause! I think helping is definitely a two-way street, and I've learned a lot from helping others as well.

    I heard about WriteGirl because I know a couple of very talented writers who dedicate their time to the group. They seem very special.

  4. What a fabulous organization! I am in awe of Keren for establishing it. Thanks, Davin, for the interview and spreading the word.

  5. Wow. I had never heard of WriteGirl before. What a wonderful program! Great interview!

  6. Tricia, You're quite welcome. I heard firsthand about this group and it's success, so I'm happy to pass it on.

    Thanks, Carolyn!

  7. Well this is just another good reason for me to polish up some submissions for the Genre Wars contest. It's good to know that people are doing this kind of work, and better to be able to support it doing what I love best. (That's writing, incidentally).

    Oh, and happy birthday, Davin!

  8. Simon, I have a hunch there are other groups like this in the country, and in the world, and I'd love to be able to uncover more of them.

    Not sure how you figured out it was my birthday, but thanks for the good wishes!

  9. I may have been tipped off on the whole birthday thing. Or possibly I'm psychic. One or the other...

  10. What an inspiration! I love the idea of pairing seasoned writers as mentors with young girls. Fantastic!

  11. Simon, I'll go with psychic. It makes our readership seem even cooler!

    Jill, yes, it's a great idea, and it seems quite successful, based on the people I have spoken with.

  12. Yay, Davin!!! Thank you for getting the word out about WriteGirl!!

    And a big birthday hug!

  13. Sounds like something we need here in South Africa. Literacy is still such a problem though, many of these type of programmes for young people are focused on music and/or dance rather than writing or reading. But, hopefully, that is slowly changing.

  14. WriteGirl sounds great and I am happy to help support it, even if only in a tiny way. Good for you!


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