‘Taking Root’ Foreword
By Allison Russell
Never underestimate the power of a story. Stories save lives. Words are infinitely powerful. Words are spells. Words can also kill. How we wield them matters.
For too long over half of the world’s one human family has been purposefully silenced, oppressed, repressed, subjected to violence. Words stolen, erased, appropriated.
But times are changing.
Each of the brilliant and brave young womxn and gender-expansive writers in this anthology is changing them.
The visionary programs that Girls Write Now nurtures are changing them.
As a mother, a musician, a writer, a song maker, as a mixed heritage queer black womxn, as a new immigrant—a Scottish Grenadian Canadian living in America, as a survivor of more than a decade of severe childhood sexual, physical and psychological abuse—I feel a profound gratitude for and resonance with these words and works. I believe what Alice Walker wrote: “We Are The Ones We Have Been Waiting For.” Each of these young writers is living proof.
I had the surreal honor of being named an “Agent of Change” by Girls Write Now in 2021, following in Cicely Tyson’s footsteps. I found myself weeping more than once during the presentations of each of the Girls Write Now mentees and mentee alumni. Their spells of self determination, insight and poetic flight moved me to tears. I was astounded by their confidence and evolved self-love; by the generosity of their spirits and the incisive force of their words. When I was their age, I was barely alive and actively trying to disappear. It took me many, many years to step into my own voice and story consciously and joyfully. I wish there had been an organization like Girls Write Now back then for me.
Taking Root: The Girls Write Now 2022 Anthology
For more than two years, our young writers have weathered an adolescence shaped by an ongoing global pandemic. But a harsh climate can also produce work of rare depth, complexity, nuance and humor. The Girls Write Now mentees in this collection have found new ways to build community and take root. This anthology is a catalog of seeds—each young writer cultivating a shimmering, emergent voice. In short stories, personal essays, poetry, and more, they reflect on life-altering topics like heartbreak, self-care and friendship. The result is a stunning book with global relevance of all this generation has endured and transformed.
The stories we choose to inhabit, to support, to amplify—matter. The stories and voices historically and presently suppressed are the very ones we need to hear the most. Every Storyteller Matters.
Girls Write Now understands this.
Each of the Storytellers in this anthology has a unique, inclusive, infinitely powerful voice and perspective.
As the world faces a war, and chasms of iniquity gape wider, as we struggle to overcome insidious, destructive bigotry here in an empathy-impaired America and across the globe, as the pandemics of intergenerational abuse, violence and silence continue to take their toll—we need these Storytellers more than ever.
We who stand at the intersections of the margins, have the clearest view of the page. Our vision is essential. Our stories, told in our own words, are medicine and healing. Our empathy is honed, high-level, hard-won. Our whole lives we’ve had to see the world through a straight white man’s eyes in order to survive. We all hold PhDs in Resilience and Empathy. It’s our turn to speak, to write, to lead. We must teach those whose empathy has been stunted and impaired through the false ideologies of bigotry and delusional superiority. We must teach them to see the world in our images. In our experiences. In our hopes and dreams and wishes.
For we are all mentors. And we are all mentees—it’s not A or B—not zero sum, choose one and forever hold your peace. It’s yes, AND… It’s both please. It’s three or more. It’s each one, teach as many as you can and don’t stop. Listening, learning, transcending—reaching for that deeper understanding. That compassion, that love which grows from empathy and resilience and forgiveness—hard-won. We must learn to rejoice in all our glorious differences and still see ourselves in another’s crisis. We must find the courage to share ourselves, our minds—unabashedly, unashamedly—just as each of these intrepid mentee writers has done.
So let us learn from them.
I invite you to lose yourself within the pages of this Girls Write Now Anthology and find yourself changed.
I have and I will, again and again.
Here’s to building the Beloved Community and a better, kinder world one spell, one vital Storyteller at a time.
May you be immersed, engaged, enraged, galvanized, challenged, comforted, recognized, represented, restored, inspired!
Never underestimate the power of a story.
Allison Russell is an artist, activist, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist of extraordinary power, talent and grace. A founding member of the acclaimed groups Our Native Daughters (with Rhiannon Giddens, Leyla McCalla and Amythyst Kiah), and Birds of Chicago (with her husband/musical partner JT Nero), the Montreal native has begun to emerge as a potent force among creative circles worldwide. On her debut solo album Outside Child (Fantasy Records, May 2021), Allison unpacks the story of her abusive childhood in searing detail in a deeply moving, unforgettable song-cycle of courage, hope and love. Outside Child is a powerful and warm statement of hope and resilience—asserted from a place of healing, of motherhood, of partnership—and from a new home made in Nashville.