Keren Taylor, founder of WriteGirl.org tells us her story....
I was a singer/songwriter in New York City, and was invited to lead some songwriting workshops for teens. That was really impactful for me. I saw firsthand how much teens really did not like to write — but also how their energy shifted when they were inspired, with some guidance. I knew I wanted to do more of that, and help ignite other writers to help teens.
A few years later, I was living in Los Angeles. In the fall of 2001, I was laid off from my internet job. I took a few weeks to think about what I might want to do next with my life, and I found myself compelled to launch a writing program and organization for teen girls. It was obvious that thousands of teens in LA would benefit immensely from mentorship from accomplished writers. And guess what — writers need this community also. They benefit from a place where they are needed and valued.
Public schools in Los Angeles are large, creative writing programs are rare or nonexistent and there aren't enough college counselors to give girls the one-on-one support they need. Girls need to be guided and inspired to find their fire, their individual voices and their personal perspectives. And women writers need to have a significant way to share their experience and creative skills. I posted the idea of a creative writing program for girls on list-servs and through emails to friends.
Within just a few weeks, there were 13 of us gathered around a conference table, fine-tuning a proposal to launch what would become WriteGirl. After a mere six months, WriteGirl published Threads, our premier anthology of members’ work. We kicked it off with a standing-room only public reading at the Knitting Factory in Hollywood. Since then, we’ve had many in-person and virtual readings and events — each one an opportunity for teens and alums to showcase their work in an encouraging and supportive environment. We’ve had a number of special guests come to our workshops, from revered authors to well-known actors, and I’m grateful to them all for helping us in our mission to show teens what creative careers they can pursue.
In the past, we’ve also joined forces with creative partners like the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, Hello Sunshine, Skylight Books, the LA Times Festival of Books, the Los Angeles County Office of Education and many more. It means so much to me to hear teens tell their stories from their own points of view, especially during tough times.
I couldn’t have predicted what the organization would become. Several of the initial WriteGirl planning members are still involved, 20 years later! I'm grateful for them, and for all the women who have contributed along the way, encouraging our teens to pursue their dreams and reach their goals.
What are WriteGirl’s goals today?
WriteGirl works with over 400 girls annually, offering mentoring, workshops, public readings and publishing opportunities. We work with underserved girls who are facing tremendous challenges such as poverty, overcrowded schools, unstable families, ineffective school counselors, pregnancy, depression, violence and incarceration. Over the course of 20 years, we have maintained a 100% success rate in not only helping our seniors in the Core Mentoring Program graduate from high school, but also guiding them to enroll in college! It's daunting, inspiring, overwhelming and joyous — all at the same time. We hope to reach even more teens throughout Los Angeles (and beyond!) and help them with their creative and academic goals.
I go to bed and wake up every day thinking about how to give girls the hope, tools and foundation they need to face where they are, see where they could go and take the steps to get there. The work will never be done, but I'm glad we’re making significant inroads with hundreds of girls every year.
WriteGirl is also dedicated to giving teens a chance to share their work, through our anthologies and online literary journal. We have published dozens of anthologies full of poetry, essays, stories and lyrics that delve into the way girls feel about themselves and the world around them. Our books have won 96 book awards to date, and counting.
When teens share their work in front of their peers or larger audiences, they get the opportunity to explore their creativity and prepare for the next stages of their lives as they pursue higher education or their dream career. Writing is a huge part of how we sort through everything happening around us, no matter what genre we choose.
Seeing our teens follow their creative passions is endlessly fulfilling. We believe in the power of a girl and her pen.
I am most proud of what our girls are doing once they have graduated from college. I didn't realize that this would be an outcome of participation in WriteGirl, but I'm so thrilled to hear about alums who are pursuing careers in community service, nonprofit management or advocacy for various causes. WriteGirl alums have also entered careers in education, law, healthcare, social service and the arts. I know we can't take all the credit for their success, but I know we influenced them greatly in looking at the world with compassion and critical eyes — and having the confidence and vision to be part of positive social action.
I’m always in awe of what our teens have accomplished. In 2014, a WriteGirl teen was selected as the first LA Youth Poet Laureate, and a WriteGirl mentee was recently named the 2021 LA Youth Poet Laureate. We strive to create a positive environment where teens can see positive role models who are making a difference in the world through their writing. We pair mentees with short-tem project mentors, in addition to weekly mentors, to help them apply for these opportunities. Through mentorship, we hope to let teens know that their voices matter, and that their creative dreams are important.
In 2021, WriteGirl alum Amanda Gorman became the youngest Inaugural poet in U.S. history. We watched proudly as she took to the national stage and shared her powerful voice at a pivotal moment in our nation's history. She’s become an important role model for our current mentees and recently visited our online workshop dedicated to poetry.
At the end of the day, I hope to let teens know that their voices matter — and that writing can help us foster more unity in turbulent times.
Our thanks go to Keren for sharing her story in this informative and inspirational guest post for Epica. Here at Epica, we are proud of our collaboration with WriteGirl and we’re grateful for all the good this program, its mentors and mentees bring to our communities. Please, follow the links above to learn more about this important and helpful program.
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