Late last week, The New Yorker published a story called “Quarantine Tips from My Cat,” by Girls Write Now mentor Nikki Palumbo, who was inspired to write the piece when her mentee, Jadah Jones asked during a virtual pair session, “How is your cat doing during all of this?” Nikki’s response turned into this story.
Girls Write Now has always been about stories, and the writers and relationships behind them. And that is particularly true today. Girls Write Now mentors are rising up and enveloping their mentees with love and support, and vice versa—and they are writing.
In short, Girls Write Now and our community are pushing forward and doing what we do: writing, mentoring, and amplifying diverse voices.
Just this week, Nikki, along with 24 Girls Write Now mentors and mentor alumnae who make up the Girls Write Now Anthology Committee, completed edits on hundreds of stories written by mentees that will be published in Taking Our Place in History: The Girls Write Now 2020 Anthology, produced by Dutton and released in May.
Meanwhile, we are working with our partners at Parsons Design & Technology and the New-York Historical Society to curate hundreds of digital media stories (podcasts, videos, interactive narrative game design!) into a cutting edge website to reflect what writing looks like today: multi-genre, multimedia, multi-platform.
For over twenty years, Girls Write Now has broken down the barriers of gender, race, age, and poverty, elevating the voices of writers who are too often not heard—or worse, silenced. We have a long history of facing crises together, and we are able to do that because of your support.
More than a decade ago, our mentors began losing their jobs as publishing houses and magazines folded with the rise of the internet. We mobilized to become one of the first writing organizations to develop a digital curriculum, with our community creating at the intersection of language, technology, and art.
When the 2008 recession hit, our tightly knit volunteer fabric afforded Girls Write Now a unique resiliency. Highly skilled mentors extended the capacity of hard-working staff to continue, even grow, excellent programming.
As the urgency of COVID-19 builds, Girls Write Now’s team transitioned overnight to full-time remote work. The priority is keeping our community not just informed, but connected, bolstered, and, ultimately, inspired. It’s not easy, but we’re not backing down.
Here is a snapshot of what we are working on as a community, and we humbly invite you in:
Virtual Curriculum: For over a decade, we have been teaching digital media skills to the next generation. We couldn’t be better equipped to transform our place-based pair sessions and group workshops into virtual reality. Take this Saturday’s workshop on Worldbuilding, which will be taught on Zoom and Slack. In any work of fiction, worldbuilding plays a critical role in immersing the reader in the setting. In speculative fiction, science-fiction, fantasy—or the universe of COVID-19 we’ve all been thrust into—worldbuilding plays an even more important role—creating a suspension of disbelief and allowing readers to to bring a little magic into this unorthodox new way of life. This Saturday, mentors and mentees will work in pods to create their own worlds. The next few Saturdays? Information Design, Data Visualization, Scriptwriting for Video Games…
Pods, Slack & Website Portfolios: Small Pods of mentors and mentees—intimate communities within an expansive organization—were fully activated to share, write, guide, and encourage each other. Besides meeting every week in person, all year mentors and mentees have also been trained by the Girls Write Now team to use the online platform Slack as their primary mode of communication and critique—and now a program requirement becomes a lifeline. We are seeing mentees’ portfolios transform into individual websites built on the platform Glitch, shareable through their own social networks, and the tens of thousands of multigenerational followers across Girls Write Now’s channels.
Girls Write Now Live: This year our spring performance series—Girls Write Now Live—reflects the full integration of Girls Write Now’s writing and digital media mentoring programs—reimagining our series formerly known as CHAPTERS and QWERTY—bending and blending genres and media into one spectacular program. Now the series takes on even greater meaning as we expand our audiences globally through live multi-genre, multimedia experiences on Instagram, Facebook, and Youtube.
Wellness Wednesdays: Girls Write Now has always taken a holistic approach to youth education: writing is our point of entry as we wrap around our mentees the full range of services to tackle the health and safety issues faced by teens coming of age across race, class, gender, religion, and more. Now our Wellness Wednesdays share curated life resources from food and internet accessibility to mental health and finances—along with plenty of weekly exercises for the mind, body, and soul.
Community Chats: We are hosting chats for mentors and mentees because we need each other. During a recent Zoom conference, we learned that seniors in high school are sad to see their proms and graduations canceled. With their family and siblings occupying such close quarters, many mentees are having trouble finding a quiet place to write and study at home. One mentee decided to limit her screen time because “your habits become who you are.” We’ve had new discoveries! During this virtual chat, mentees loved seeing as backgrounds the homes of their fellow mentees and Staff Pod Leads—what they call a “house tour” across the five boroughs. They vow to stay positive, resolving that this, like so many other challenges they have faced, will pass.
Experimental Writing Exercises: Mentors and mentees are more creative than ever, dreaming up activities like these: Erasure poetry using a transcript from Trump’s daily press conference; Handwriting letters to their mentors, then photographing and Slacking them out; Keeping an audio diary of their voice memos, or a log of their Zoom transcripts—a chronicle of what it was like to live through COVID-19. One prompt: “What if today was forever, and we always had to wear face masks and gloves?” A mentee imagined face masks becoming a form of creative expression, a type of fashion statement.
New Writing Experiences: Mentors and mentees are more engaged than ever. They are asking to extend our Friday Night Salons from the fall into the spring—including virtual craft talks by our mentors and teaching artists who are experts across genres and media, and Clap & Cringe, sharing the best of our oldest and newest writing—open mic style. As mentors and mentees delve into digital, they also need to escape it, so we are collaborating on a zine about embroidering, cooking, and meditating. We ended our last Community Chat with a Box Breathing exercise.
Writing Works: Our workforce development program, Writing Works, takes on new meaning in the era of Coronavirus. We are engaging employees across industries who crave meaningful connection with the community, and who have the capacity to give back. Our mentees will receive professional development from the field, valuable best practices that are being fine-tuned in real time—keeping mentees competitive candidates on the trails they choose to blaze.
It’s a challenging new world, fraught with perils and alive with possibilities, and we are all experimenting and learning together. Experience the Girls Write Now community evolve in real time on our website, and on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.
On behalf of our Board and staff, thank you for your outpouring of love and generous support.
Founder & Executive Director
Girls Write Now
P.S. The second episode of Girls Write Now Live—featuring genre and medium bending work from the next generation of women writers—streams live on Facebook with Robyn Crawford (author of A Song for You: My Life With Whitney Houston, Dutton) and emcee Galina Espinoza (President & Editor in Chief, Rewire.com). Join us Friday, April 3 at 6 PM!