By Meg Campbell
In an upstairs room at the Brookline Teen Outreach Center, Vivian Lee Croft sets out a spread of Las Palmas chicken tacos and toppings for the arriving girls of Girls Write Pittsburgh. Most weeks between two and eight girls participate, so taco quantities are somewhat of an art – but who minds leftover tacos?
Tonight, two girls join at the table, Amelia and Daisy. They’ve been coming here since the program launched in October.
Daisy, a 17-year-old junior, likes to write poetry and fiction. She’s been writing since the fifth grade and is currently working on seven books.
“I want to better my writing and learn how to actually finish, instead of throwing it away after two chapters,” she says. Her fellow writers – adults included – laugh. We’ve all been there.
Amelia, 13, is in eighth grade. She was thrilled to join Girls Write Pittsburgh.
“When I first came I wanted to learn how to improve my writing. My expectations have been extremely met,” she shares.
She enjoys writing fantasy and science fiction, mostly, though she occasional dabbles in nonfiction. Amelia loves to read, and her favorite author is Cassandra Clare.
“She makes you throw your life away to indulge in hers,” Amelia says. “I really do love fiction.”
So what exactly is Girls Write Pittsburgh? Simply put, it’s a free program to empower and inspire teen girls to find their voice through writing.
“I wanted to have a space where girls could come and know themselves and their voices,” says founder Vivian Lee Croft. “We’re bringing people together to become better voices, stronger voice, better women.”
“I had the idea in my head for two years and this fall decided now is the time.”
In the months since its launch, Girls Write Pittsburgh has captured the attention of key names. They’ve received a $1,000 grant from Awesome Pittsburgh and a $1,500 grant from Barrelhouse, a literary magazine and press in Washington, D.C., who will provide support and mentorship in addition to funding.
“There aren’t enough opportunities or safe spaces for girls to express themselves through creative writing, and this program addresses that gap,” says Awesome Pittsburgh board member Mike Capsambelis. “What makes it even more awesome is that it also exposes girls to forms like songwriting and comedy writing, opening them up to even more ways to express themselves.”
— Work Hard Pittsburgh (@workhardpgh) January 17, 2017
“This program will reach and empower girls who may not have other forums like this for personal expression and discovery, and we believe it can scale across the region over time. Imagine a future where we have a diverse and talented community of women writers throughout the region! It starts with efforts like this.”
When she heard about Croft’s idea, Caitlin McNulty, founding president of the Brookline Teen Outreach Center offered their space for the pilot. While Croft plans to expand to additional locations throughout the city, the Center has been the perfect starting location.
The Center’s counseling intern, Joan Mercer, sits in on meetings to help facilitate the conversations and topics that can come up.
“The critical tools for any writer are pen, paper, and therapist,” I say with a laugh, but not at all joking.
“Sometimes it’s going to be hard,” offers Croft. “I know it is for me, and I’m not a teenager. Writing is my therapy.”
We all nod in agreement.
“I use it as a venting tool. It makes me love writing even more,” Amelia chimes in. “It makes me more confident.”
“How many times have we all shared stories and heard, ‘I feel that, too’?” asks Croft.
More enthusiastic nods.
The girls take turns sharing things they’ve written throughout the week. Daisy has an unbelievable gift for dialogue and description, while each of Amelia’s works has a rhythm and cadence most authors spend a lifetime trying to find.
In the final minutes of the meeting, Vivian gives us all a writing prompt to tackle. She welcomes me to join them, and I eagerly start scratching notes. Those who wish to share do so, and we find common themes across our work.
“You’re a great teacher,” says Amelia, beaming at Croft. “You guys give great advice about how to write better, to get over writer’s block. Girls Write changes my life.”
“You change my life, too,” says Croft.