Education / 2013

Power of the Pen: Writing Together

Idea submitted in the My LA2050 Maker Challenge by WriteGirl, a project of Community Partners

Between texting and tweeting, it may seem the that the need for “real” writing has gone out the window. But writing is important, and creative writing is more important still. The ability to express oneself, in public, professional and private contexts, is critical for success, effective communication and the development of community.

WriteGirl has more than 12 years of success in guiding young people to express themselves through creative writing and mentoring. The results have been extraordinary and despite the rapid digitization of the globe, reports of writing’s obsolescence are greatly exaggerated!

The purpose of the Power of the Pen: Writing Together project is to leverage the abundant creative writing and educational talent pool of Los Angeles, and to foster the joy of writing. We hope that this project will serve as the pilot program for annual city-wide writing events. The project website will remain active year-round, showcasing selected writing and inspiring stories. We want to guide our city to write together, to empower any individual to express his or her stories in creative ways.

Everyone has a story to tell. Los Angelenos have rich personal histories and perspectives. The Power of the Pen: Writing Together project emphasizes the community’s role in education. The project will be kicked off by a week-long co-ed program of creative writing workshops in middle schools and high schools throughout Los Angeles.

Who would lead these workshops? We believe that with the right tools and training, anyone who loves to write can be an effective, powerful mentor. WriteGirl would recruit and train men and women from all walks of life to become Writing Guides during the week-long Power of the Pen: Writing Together project.

Simultaneously, the Power of the Pen project would galvanize the city through a series of creative writing activities around the city, so that Angelenos can write and create together, with the carefully scoped guidance that we specialize in (and that helps us get great writing from virtually anyone). The entire community of Los Angeles would be invited to participate by sharing their written stories through a website specifically dedicated to this program. The theme for the kick-off week will focus on writing personal stories about where we’ve been and where we’re going.

These events can be presented with the many organizations we partner with or who currently support our work, but also in settings that are both new to our traditional work and also new as settings for creative writing. That means outdoors, in the middle of the workday (and workplace), on public transportation, in the chambers of government, at the schools and universities, in the company of people you love and value, and in the company of strangers (or not-yet-met friends). We propose to write in the shadow of Los Angeles landmarks to draw inspiration from our unique landscape and culture, to write with the inclusion of the many, many professional writers who congregate to our city and its various media-driven enterprises, and to connect online with groups and individuals, inviting them to write with us, in real time, to reiterate the value of writing together.

When people participate in creative writing (which is distinct from school-based writing), they often experience transcendence. Gone are the red pencil marks from a teacher who didn’t understand, the feelings of exclusion because a mandate for perfection excluded you from one of humanity’s core activities – expressing our true, uncensored creative instincts – the things we make up entirely on our own, often in a completely unique way. Creative writing is different because it prompts the writer to take risks, to explore ideas that are not yet fully formed or perfected. Creative writing presents a standard to meet that is entirely self-designed. It is freeing, fortifying, and prompts people to travel even further along their own journeys of personal development. Creative writing brings what is inside to the outside so you can share it with the world around you and, if need be, create that world for yourself.

You are what you write. That has been the experience of WriteGirl over the past 12 years. We have guided young writers and adults to produce writing that has thrilled those near enough to hear it read aloud. Our books have been lauded with 48 national and international awards. We have mostly worked with high school girls, but have also very effectively developed events for boys, co-ed groups, middle schoolers, adults, and youth who are critically at risk, such as those who are pregnant, parenting, or incarcerated. Even the audiences at all of our large events get to connect with the power of the pen – you can’t attend a WriteGirl event without being prompted to write something!

What are some of your organization’s most important achievements to date?

For eleven consecutive years, WriteGirl has guided 100% of the seniors in our Core Mentoring Program to not only graduate from high school, but enroll in college, often on full or partial scholarships. Many are the first in their families to attend college. How do we do that? There is a direct connection between creative writing and confidence. When you are empowered to believe in the value of your own voice, you can be the architect of your own success.

WriteGirl has published 12 anthologies that have earned 48 national and international book awards. These books, highly interactive and beautifully designed, contain the work of teen girls and the women writers who mentor them. They are a concrete testament to the power of the pen.

WriteGirl has hosted hundreds of creative writing events for audiences large and small, in many different settings. We work with girls who participate in our Core Program for up to five years, as well as working with writers we have never met before in one-time only programs.

We have developed creative writing programs for critically at-risk teens (both boys and girls) who are pregnant/parenting, on suspension, incarcerated or struggling with significant life challenges. We have developed more than 15 books of writing from these young people. We are now providing graduation support and higher education guidance for this group of participants.

In 2002, LAUSD high school student Glenda Garcia joined WriteGirl, not knowing what to expect. During her four years in the program, she attended monthly workshops, worked with several mentors, attended college readiness sessions, read her creative writing at public readings and had her work published in several of WriteGirl’s award-winning anthologies. In her senior year, WriteGirl nominated her for a Posse Scholarship. She won, and attended Dickinson College on a full ride. Upon college graduation, Glenda was awarded a prestigious Fulbright Scholarship. We’re very excited to say that she is taking a year to work with us at WriteGirl as our Membership Coordinator. Where will Glenda be in 2050? We are confident that she will be a key contributor to the success of any community in which she resides..<p>Here are a few more alumnae success stories:Emily is on her way to Harvard University, where she received a full scholarship.</p><p>Lovely has a summer fellowship in nuclear policy at Lawrence Livermore Laboratory and will spend next year researching in China.</p><p>Jamilah, a junior at Dartmouth, spent the last semester doing community outreach work in Los Angeles and will travel to China in the fall to conduct research for her senior thesis.</p>Our success has been recognized: In 2010, WriteGirl was awarded a Medal of Service and named the California Nonprofit of the Year by the Office of the Governor. In 2010, WriteGirl received the Humanitas Philanthropy Prize. In 2011, WriteGirl was finalist in the National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Awards.

Please identify any partners or collaborators who will work with you on this project.

WriteGirl has longstanding partnerships with many organizations who we will approach to help us implement this project. Educational partners include the Los Angeles County Office of Education, the Los Angeles Unified School District and the Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs Youth Arts Division. Prominent civic institutions who have partnered with WriteGirl to host writing workshops and events include: Walt Disney Concert Hall, MOCA, the Los Angeles Times, The National Center for the Preservation of Democracy, the Autry Museum, the Petersen Automotive Museum, the Los Angeles Central Public Library, Skylight Books, Book Soup, Vroman’s, the Writers Guild Theater and the GRAMMY Foundation.

Please explain how you will evaluate your project. How will you measure success?

The success of the Power of the Pen: Writing Together project can be measured through the selected writing that will be showcased on the project’s website. The online conversation will demonstrate how effectively the project connected and inspired people.

We will survey participants and stakeholders about their involvement in the project. Our committee will meet for a wrap-up event to evaluate all aspects of the project’s success.

WriteGirl will complete a detailed report documenting each aspect of the program and its effectiveness. This project will add to the civic dialogue about the necessity for creative education, and the ways that we can bring the city together to participate in that process.

Through the Power of the Pen: Writing Together project we anticipate that many great stories will be shared, in a way that can transform a city.

How will your project benefit Los Angeles?

The Power of the Pen: Writing Together project will benefit Los Angeles by raising to prominence the value of creative writing and self-empowerment. The joy of sharing our stories can contribute much to the quality of life in Los Angeles. If we want to address the dire high school dropout rate of nearly 50% at many Los Angeles public schools, if we want to shift that number by 2050, we need to plant seeds now that will inspire students to want to write, and engage the community to help make that happen.

In order to implement this project, we would assemble a committee of local teachers, students, parents, arts education professionals, corporate partners and experienced WriteGirl mentors and volunteers. The team would develop the slate of writing events, refine curriculum and establish recruitment and volunteer training criteria for the Power of the Pen Writing Guides. Each committee member would receive a modest stipend to help secure their commitment of time and energy. The committee would be led by a paid project coordinator, who would spearhead communications and project goals.

The Power of the Pen: Writing Together project would integrate writing, education, arts education and community activism, giving all Los Angeles residents the chance to take part in the educational success of the youth of Los Angeles and connect with the creative energy of their own personal voices.

What would success look like in the year 2050 regarding your indicator?

The goal of the Power of the Pen: Writing Together project for success in 2050 is multi-faceted: 1) improve creative writing skills and education outcomes in students, 2) train and inspire an army of Writing Guides and leverage the creative talent in Los Angeles, 3) guide and support teachers to bring out the best creative writing in students, 4) empower the community to be part of the solution, 5) build a lasting archive of personal creative writing from Angelenos, connecting generations, connecting disparate parts of Los Angeles, and connecting our personal histories to our collective future.

In the words of one of our teen writers, “One voice does matter.” Success in 2050 depends on success now.

WriteGirl’s success rate compared to the current high school dropout rate, is a direct demonstration of how students can be successful when they are given tools and a safe environment in which to express themselves and their ideas. We want to use the impetus of WriteGirl’s 11 years of success to bring the joy of creative writing into the community and engage the city of Los Angeles in Writing Together to help educate and inspire our youth and ourselves.