Young Women Writing For A Change
Women Writing for a Change was founded in 1991, in Cincinnati, when the poet Mary Pierce Brosmer gathered together fifteen women for a weekly writing class. Brosmer used certain techniques—like passing a talking stone, establishing confidentiality, and encouraging honest feedback—to create a safe space in her class, and after time it grew into a much larger organization. When, years later, the Feminist Leadership Academy of Cincinnati began training and licensing ‘teacher-facilitators,’ affiliate schools began popping up in cities all over the country, from Birmingham to Louisville to Portland.
A Sanctuary For Writing
On the far northeast edge of Bloomington in the Poplar Grove Schoolhouse, a group of thirteen writers sits cross-legged in a circle, working intently. Lit with strings of lights, full of pillows, and painted in muted colors, this room is a sanctuary–perhaps even more so for this group of writers, who are all young women between eleven and fourteen.
“My name is Olivia; I’m 13 years old.”
“My name is Annika; I’m 12 years old.”
“I’m Natalia; I’m almost 12.”
“I’m Sophia, and I’m 12 and 6 months and 27 days.”
“I’m Nora, I’m 12, and I actually live in California, but since it’s so great here I keep coming back.”
Bodies Of Work
Each day these young women read work by published writers, are given prompts–which they can choose whether or not to follow–and they write work of their own. After a piece is written it’s read out loud, and the rest of the class offers feedback. Nora explains that this week the theme of the class was The Body.
“So we have a poem, and it’s called ‘The Bodies’ by Elizabeth Spires.
Here in the half-dark of the sauna,
the bodies of the women glisten…
Secrets are whispered here. Stories told.
The bodies, alabaster, abalone,
relax, give up their pose, to ask,
How shall we be joined?
How shall we know each other?…
And it goes on…”
The body is, of course, a fitting theme for girls just going into their teens whose own bodies are growing and changing so rapidly. Wendy is the mother of Sophia, another one of these young writers. She says,
“When you raise daughters, you realize how hard it is for them to express themselves sometimes, publicly. This is such a perfect venue for them to talk about all those changes that are happening in their lives and not feel ashamed about what they’re saying. I think that’s very important.”
If writing is a way to become aware of how they feel, getting feedback and support helps these young women gain confidence and, yes, lose any shame that might be associated with those feelings.
A Happy Benefit
Beth Lodge-Rigal is the owner-director of Women Writing for a Change of Bloomington. She says that for those who come back year after year, the results of writing in this safe environment are remarkable.
“Absolutely you see this incredible blossoming in these young women as writers and as girls who are really thoughtful and who really have something to say about their lives and their observations and the world. What’s so cool for us now is most of us have just seen this growth in these young women as really strong young people. That’s just a happy benefit, I think, of writing their lives.”
At five o’clock, parents and friends gather in the front room of the Poplar Grove Schoolhouse for this summer’s final ‘readaround,’ where they’ll listen to each girl read a poem or a short prose piece she wrote this summer. One of the practices at Women Writing for a Change is that at readings the audience is asked not to applaud because, as the evening’s facilitator explains, for some pieces applause might not be the appropriate emotional response. Instead of clapping, then, before and after each piece the facilitator rings a chime.
With this chime, she pronounces the name of the next reader, “Hadley,” and Hadley gets up to read.
We Are Safe
We are locked to the outside world
In a secret weapon.
Our bodies, frozen in the ability to hide.
We are protected by our pens.
We are protected by our lips,
Able to spill, but ours are padlocked shut,
Ours have layers of glue sealing them.
We are not helpless,
But more helpful,
Our lips pressed firmly, unable to share our little secrets.
Key and Lock.
Our pen and paper,
Our paper and pen.
Our arms linked,
Our breath held,
Our secrets shared with only ourselves
And our locked lips, our sly smile,
Our pen and paper.
And we share, our smiles growing wider,
Our writing growing longer.
We smile, our lips sealed in solemn acknowledgement
That we are together,
Joined by the possibility of words.