Girls Write Now: Q&A with Founder and Director Maya Nussbaum
“You’re always just a twenty minute timer away from a breakthrough.”
By Ethan Wolff
Writing works both inside and out. There’s the aspect of self-examination, putting order to ideas, and there’s the element of expression, providing readers entry to other worlds. The New York program Girls Write Now serves both sides of this spectrum, and it does it for the demographic that’s least represented in our media: women of color.
Girls Write Now matches professional writers with New York teenagers in the country’s only writing and mentoring program exclusively for girls. Not only do the participants get to develop their individual voices, they also gain crucial communications skills. The program reaches out to the broader New York community as well. The CHAPTERS series is right now bringing in major authors for readings open to the public, and the organization’s May spring benefit will feature best-selling author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.
Girls Write Now founder and director Maya Nussbaum was recently nominated for a Diane von Furstenberg DVF People’s Voice award and has been called an education hero by the New York Times. She started Girls Write Now from her kitchen table in Brooklyn. Thought Gallery got her impressions about how GWN fits into the city’s landscape.
Thought Gallery: New York is a literary town. What do you feel Girls Write Now adds to NYC? Do you think it changes the way we see and understand the city?
Maya Nussbaum: We just sent the Girls Write Now 2015 Anthology to the printer (today!) and it showcases incredible stories that touch upon real issues that are affecting teen girls today. From race relations in the city, to self-esteem and body issues, to family life—both the ups and downs—our girls are joining the cultural conversation on what matters today.
TG: What kind of empowerment do reading and writing provide for your mentees?
MN: Our multi-genre curriculum focuses on honing their existing skills (these are talented writers—93% high-need, 94% girls of color—from all five boroughs of NYC) and challenging them to write outside their comfort zone. The results are tremendous.
TG: This is the fourth year of the CHAPTERS reading series. What do you feel is special about this lineup?
MN: Amazing women writers continue to come and show their support for the girls in our program. Tiphanie Yanique, Emily St. John Mandel, Roxane Gay and Quiara Alegria Hudes are truly writing the world and letting our girls know that it can be done!
TG: How do you attract the talent that appears in the CHAPTERS series?
MN: We have a robust and supportive community that has grown since Girls Write Now started 17 years ago. Word of mouth is good and writers know about us and want to pass on their craft and support our mission to help young women find and own their voices. We are thankful for the amazing support.
TG: What do you find most gratifying in seeing in your mentee writers?
MN: How much they grow and learn with their mentors by their side. But let one of our mentees, Rachel Aghanwa, speak for herself:
“My mentor Sara Polsky and I set some very large goals to complete by the end of the year (one included finishing a novel). I didn’t realize how hard it would be getting started, or the other challenges we’ve faced. Writer’s block, deadlines and, believe it or not, my horrible spelling were all things that sound like it would hinder our progression but it did the opposite. For all these months I’ve gotten to know Sara, she taught me that no matter how stuck you may be on a blank page, you’re always just a twenty minute timer away from a breakthrough.”