Above photo: Arts educators from Carnegie Museum of Art led girls through the permanent collection, which prompted exercises in setting, characterization, and theme. Photo by Anne Marie Ellison Miller
On Wednesday evenings at Brookline Teen Outreach Center, there’s creative energy in the air, sparked by a group of young women who are excited about putting their thoughts on paper.
These aspiring writers are members of Girls Write Pittsburgh, a creative writing program for teen girls throughout the city. Their leaders are writers themselves, dedicated to helping young poets, playwrights, journalists and authors to express their creative side.
Currently in its inaugural year with activities scheduled through June, the initiative was launched last fall by Vivian Lee Croft of North Side with a series of weekly writing workshops held at the Brookline center.
The group participates in special events, too, such as their recent trip to Carnegie Museum of Art for a writing workshop inspired by art. After exploring the museum’s Teenie Harris Archive, the “Iris van Herpen: Transforming Fashion” exhibit, and the paintings collection, the girls shared their experiences through poetry, prose, and short stories.
Monthly weekend workshops focus on a specific type of writing. In January, for example, they held a comedy sketch writing workshop.
Interest in the program is growing — for the young writers and their adult volunteer mentors — and additional workshop locations are planned, including a second series running on Tuesdays, beginning May 2, at Assemble in Garfield.
“In these weekly workshops, writers can bring pieces they’ve been working on at home to share with the group,” Croft says. “We critique, share feedback and support one another. It is important that the writers can share with their peers and receive constructive feedback from the group.”
The girls can take part in the workshops at their own pace, Croft says, “whether it’s sitting and listening, sharing something from home, or reading something written during the hour. We tend to push them a bit out of their comfort zones to help them grow as writers and as women, but we respect where they are, personally and as a writer.”
Maddie, 13, joined Girls Write Pittsburgh to prepare for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), an annual Internet-based creative writing project that takes place in November.
“I’m better at poetry, even though I didn’t want to do that,” she says. “I had to write a poem in class today, and I couldn’t wait! I wrote two pages.”
Kaitlyn, 17, joined the group “to work on my writing and get better at it.” She has an interest in writing novels and has many pieces in progress. “I want to try and do something from start to finish instead of leaving it,” she says. “I’m better at poetry now, and I love it.”
Grownup writers have come on board to mentor teens as part of Girls Write Pittsburgh. They have found the experience personally rewarding.
Anne Marie Ellison Miller, who lives in Point Breeze North, was looking for an opportunity to volunteer with a similar program when she first moved to Pittsburgh. The former attorney and current marketing professional – whose creative projects include fiction, portraits and street photography – met with Croft and offered to help out with social media.
“So glad Vivian took me up on it,” Miller says. “I’m very excited about the work this program is doing. I feel good about helping empower the next generation of girls’ and women’s voices. I want as many of those out there as possible. If there’s space for theirs, it means there’s space for mine, too.”
As a facilitator for the weekly workshop in Brookline, Sheena Carroll finds her involvement with Girls Write Pittsburgh helpful for her own writing.
“It takes away my favorite procrastination excuse of ‘I don’t have time to write,’ “ she says. “I almost always do the writing exercises together with the girls. I also find myself wanting to read, write, and perform more – not only to improve myself but to show the girls what is possible.”
Cheryl Werber of Squirrel Hill, a freelance writer, joined the Girls Write Pittsburgh advisory council a few months ago. She says being around other people who are writing fuels her own need to write.
“I’ve been writing in some form since my mom bought me a diary when I was 8,” she says.
Croft is impressed by how the girls in the program have matured and grown.
“The writing process can oftentimes stir up emotions, in addition to getting the creative juices flowing,” Croft says. “When we see work that is especially emotional or deep or inspiring, we take note of that and offer additional support and encouragement to the writer. In some cases, the facilitators at our workshops may be the only strong female mentor the writer has in her life.”
In addition to creative writing, the program’s “Senior Track” provides teens with writing fundamentals related to college entrance tests, applications and freshman-year expectations, as well as practicing mock interviews for college, internships, and jobs.
“The program is more than just the writing, though that’s the core,” Croft says. “It’s a space for women to grow into themselves and grow their voices. I’m amazed every week at the growth that is taking place.”