Can’t wait to read the bold, inspiring stories written by the Girls Write Now Class of 2021? Check out the excerpts below from Girls Write Now Unmuted: The 2021 Anthology!
The introduction to this year’s anthology was written by Robyn Crawford, a Girls Write Now honoree and the author of A Song For You: My Life with Whitney Houston.
Abi Daré, the New York Times bestselling author of The Girl with the Louding Voice, wrote the foreword.
Thank you to Dutton, who partnered with us again this year to help produce the anthology, Amazon Literary Partnership for their charitable contribution, and to Feminist Press for publishing this year’s e-book. This anthology would not be possible without their tremendous support.
An excerpt from ‘Pandemic Letters: The Wind or a Leaf Stuck to the Sidewalk’
by mentee Emma Kushnirsky & mentor Robin Messing
After reading the poetic correspondence between Natalie Diaz and Ada Limon entitled “Envelopes of Air,” we decided to write poetic letters to one another, which naturally interrogated our feelings and thoughts during a pandemic.
Distortion of Reality Comes Easily Like a Wave or Exhale
Emma to Robin
Looking out the window
it could be
a moving picture
glued to the other side of the glass.
Who’s to say?
How long of never-being-outside would
it take for me to believe
this is the only world that
Once I was trapped in a bathroom for
Could it have been an hour?
It didn’t take long to start
trying to leave
by impossible means.
Before I yelled out I closed my eyes and
moved myself through the door.
I would go crazy sofast.
At what point are there no backsies?
I think never.
I think that we are never broken.
I’m going to be the cardinal in the snow.
If I can bear it.
Emma Kushnirsky is a current college student in Iowa. She grew up mostly in the Bronx and the most uptown part of Manhattan. She’s a writer and educator-in-training. Her work has previously been published in In Parentheses Magazine.
‘Where I’m From’
by mentee Alice Kresberg
I was adopted from Seoul, South Korea at a very young age. As an international adoptee, I’ve found it hard to connect with my birth culture.
Bustling streets surrounded by neon lights,
A foreign language which is music to my ears,
Harsh and soft sounds mixed together, coming fluently from people’s mouths as they dodge others and make their way down the streets.
Stand owners calling out to you with friendly shouts,
Socks sold for only 50 cents each,
A slight fishy smell mixed with spiciness lingers in the air.
The stares and whispers,
The awkward moment of silence not knowing which language to speak,
The shame I feel when I can’t understand something that’s said to me.
A place I’ve been to two times – both very different experiences,
Once a carefree, unattached girl seeing Korea for the first time,
Another time, an insecure girl desperate to get closer to her culture.
A place I wish to explore,
A place I wish I could have another life to have grown up in,
A place which makes me cry,
A place I can barely call home,
Seoul, South Korea.
Alice Kresberg is a senior at a high school in Manhattan, NY. She transferred in her sophomore year from a high school in Brooklyn, NY. She enjoys writing, crocheting, sewing, listening to music, baking and sleeping and she loves collecting miniature things. She has two cats, Charlie and Lola, who she enjoys spending time with.
by mentee Althea Collier
As a child, my church congregation had a small garden that we grew vegetables and fruits in every year. After many years, the garden was sold and converted into a new apartment building.
It is spring Sunday. I have pulled on my white dress and tied it with my favorite blue ribbon. Tights and pinching shoes. But I cannot wait for later. Later, I go to The Garden. At 2 o’clock I run to find my dad. He grabs my hand and I skip along beside him.
Corner. Man. Nod. Gate. Lock. Key. Grass.
This is our Garden. Tucked between two old buildings, my family and community have tended it since I was born, and I will tend it today. Thrilled eyes wide open, I toss my tights and shoes into the grass and run across the little lawn, under the arch of spindly vines. In the back, empty plots are waiting for the energy that spring brings.
My brother, who has run in behind us, has brought bags of mulch and manure. I roll up the sleeves of my Sunday white and dig my hands in the dirt. Turning, pulling, pushing, my little hands bring the old, hard earth to grow between my fingers. New sun beating on my back, I can feel the warmth of life come back to the dirt. In my white dress, I am rooted in the earth. Soon, corn, tomato, squash, basil, cucumber, and strawberry will find their place next to mine.
It is summer Sunday. Embay parts the thick, warm vines and hands me a prized, juicy, plump, tomato. I hold it in my hands, loving, eager. Under the shade of the 6-foot-tall corn, its juice runs down my chin. Beautiful, tart, and sweet. We are all gathered here today. I cup my treat between my hands and peer out from the vines at my family and friends gathered on the grass. Barbeque and ice cream in their mouths, The Garden in their hearts. The girls and boys whose smiles have brought me here, the hands of those who have lifted me up, day after day. Returning to my tomato, I smile.
It is fall Sunday. I pull roots and pick squash for mom. The vine archway is turning rusty orange, the strawberries are gone. Dead tomato vines piled in my small arms; The Garden goes back to sleep. My father stows away shovels and bags of dirt as I lay in the grass.
“Until next summer,” I whisper.
It is winter Sunday. It has snowed so much that my short legs are engulfed by a wave of pure, sparkling white. Joy hidden under my scarf; I throw the first. My brother; the second. Klyde; the third. We fall and run and throw until our fingers are red and sore and our faces wet and frozen. As my father locks the gate behind us, I remember; Spring is almost here.
It is spring Sunday.
Corner. Man. Nod. Gate. Lock. Key. Grass.
This is not our Garden. Tucked between two old buildings, our Garden in gone. Sold years ago, nothing grows here anymore. Instead, there is a concrete tower. Hard, cold. No more am I rooted in warm earth, juicy tomatoes, vines and grass. My Garden is gone forever, living only in the whispers of old memories in my heart.
Althea (she/her/hers) is a junior in high school. She loves reading long books, drinking tea, going on bike rides, appreciating nature, nerding out over Lord of the Rings and writing poetry. She is passionate about criminal justice, intersectional feminism, journalism, and philosophy. Her favorite authors are Virginia Woolf and Jane Austen, she loves all things rock, and enjoys watching classic films.
by mentee Emmanuella Agyemang
Deadly Militia is a short story that portrays the life of a young child soldier during the Congo War.
The gun’s weight across my chest weighs my body down as I lean my head against a tree trunk. My mind goes back to my recent combat. My eyes widen as I watch the episode unfold causing the hairs on the back of my neck to stand up. I feel my lips curling into a sinister smile. My gun is a dusty black AK-47 paired with a camo strap. We have quite the history. Whenever it is time for combat, I can easily piece the gun parts together. We have done things that I cannot let depart from my lips. I begin to blink at the sight of the sunrise, my eyes focus into the forest as I adjust the camouflage-patterned hat on my low cut hair.
Living with my family, just two years ago, was more than a faint memory; it was an actuality. It is now hard to concentrate on combat when I remember my mother soothing me with a gathering song she once sang every Saturday night. I can always hear my mother’s faint voice singing, “tout le monde aime samedi soir.” I ease into her words.
A few days have passed since we have taken over a village in the northern area of the city of Kananga. Soon, it will be time to leave since the Congolese government soldiers are looking to arrest rebel groups like us. Rebel groups are formed in the first place to fight for political change in the government. We are not the first and we will not be the last.
A vivid memory of my life is when I was initiated into Milice Mortelle, Deadly Militia. During my initiation, white powder was dusted onto my face, neck, and shoulders by the hands of a voodoo priest. The white powder by the same voodoo priest is applied before any combat. In doing so, I am protected by my ancestors and any spirit of death will keep away; I am invincible on the outside. But then again, I never signed up to be a child soldier. I never wanted to be invincible. A young and innocent girl is in here somewhere.
I have been looked down upon, pushed around, and worst of all, almost taken advantage of. I have realized that no one is coming to rescue me. I will never get married, have children, finish school, or even touch the cheekbones of my mother and hear her say, “I am glad I have a beautiful daughter like you.”
My thoughts are soon interrupted by Commandant’s stern voice. “Get up we need to look for more food and ammunition.” Commandant and the rest of the boys have already searched for more ammunition and food, but have come back with nothing. Commandant is a tall, imposing man from Kinshasa. Every time he takes his shirt off to do his daily push ups I see a scar that travels from under his right pec to the bottom of his ribs. He is mysterious. I do not know Commandant’s real name. It is not something that needs to be brought up. I want to ask him questions about the life he has lived. Why do you have such a large scar? Why are you so ruthless? Or even what happened to your family?
As I march behind Commandant, my gun now behind my back, a woman appears from behind a bush four feet away from us. Her face is flushed with fear and her colorful wrapper is stained in red. Commandant notices and steps towards her.
“Hey! What are you doing here?” His brown eyes examine her like a piece of raw meat, he is ready to pounce on her. That was his personality, he loved to pounce on any and everything that moved like a woman. My arm automatically blocks Commandant from the woman. His eyes lower to me as he rolls them in annoyance.
The woman’s legs began to shake as she stepped back. She was getting ready to run, then she stopped abruptly and stood strangely still, eyeing me.
“Mireille,” she spoke softly. “My girl,” she said with tears running down her face.
My eyes raise to meet hers. “Mother?”
Emmanuella Agyemang is a high school junior and a Girls Write Now mentee. She is most passionate about writing and journalism. Agyemang has been featured in a few news articles and is currently on the Scholastic Magazine Teen Advisory Board. She hopes that by pursuing a career in journalism, she paves a way for other minorities to pursue journalism as well.