Brittney Nanton, a 10th grader at Landmark High School in Chelsea, has lots of school friends, but few with whom she can share her love of literature, and even fewer who can give her feedback on her own writing.
That, she said, left her feeling uncertain about her talents.
But since joining Girls Write Now, a writing and mentoring program in the Garment District, Nanton said she’s grown in confidence and bloomed creatively.
“I have found my own unique style that I’m not afraid to share,” said Nanton, who lives on the Upper West Side. “As a woman, this program has made me feel more confident.”
Girls Write Now, begun in 1998, pairs high school girls with professional woman writers who provide guidance on writing and, often, on other matters too. Participants commit to meeting with a mentor once a week and to attend monthly group workshops throughout the school year. Most students return for another year; some have stayed with the program as long as four years.
The program’s founder, Maya Nussbaum, conceived of Girls Write Now during her senior year at Columbia University, at a time she was trying to find her own voice as a writer. “I wanted to break down the myth of the isolated writer and to build an organization based on the principle that it’s actually a communal enterprise,” Nussbaum said. “I focused on teens because I remember ninth and 10th grade of high school as the years during which I became awakened intellectually and creatively. The idea is to identify girls and expose them to new writing opportunities.”
More than 5,000 girls have taken part in the program since its inception. Its 2015 anthology, Voice to Voice, will be released on May 19, at the organization’s annual awards evening at Three Sixty Tribeca.
By then, Rumer LeGendre, 18, and her mentor will have gotten together on yet another Wednesday on the Upper West Side, where for about three years they have met to brainstorm and work on poetry and personal essays. LeGendre, a senior at NYC iSchool in SoHo who lives in Morningside Heights, called her mentor, Vivian Conan, a huge influence.
About year ago, LeGendre stood in front of a microphone and read two of her poems to a Girls Write Now audience of several hundred.
“To share my poem that I saw as empowering on stage in front of people was an exhilarating experience,” said LeGendre, who plans to attend Brooklyn College and study English literature or political science. “Girls Write Now has helped me to grow as a writer, and provided support and encouragement to not be ashamed of my writing, but rather to be self-assured about the words I put on the page.”
The organization added a digital mentoring program in 2012, giving students the opportunity to create and fine-tune multimedia projects including video, audio and animation.
Yesmil Polanco, a junior at NYC iSchool, joined Girls Write Now this year, not long after her mother died following a long struggle with cancer and what her mentor, Heather Kristin, said were a host of other challenges.
Polanco, who lives in Morningside Heights, and Kristin typically meet at the Barnes & Noble in Union Square or at a nearby Starbucks, where they tinker with words and talk about writing. Polanco, who has made film and sound recordings as well as written poetry, said the program has taught her the power of the written and spoken word.
“I’ve learned the importance of how my writing can touch girls like me, of color, from struggling families,” she said.
Nanton, the Landmark High 10th grader, also said that weekly rendezvous with her mentor — Amy Flyntz, at an Upper West Side café, where they write, edit the work and share a little a gossip — have been invaluable, both for her writing and for herself.
Flyntz, too, has come to treasure the relationship. She recalled a pivotal moment from a recent teen poetry slam at the Nuyorican Poets Café at which Nanton participated on the spur of the moment and without prompting.
“She closed the evening by getting up and reading an excerpt from her essay, which received very positive feedback,” Flyntz said. “As we walked to the train, she turned to me, grinned and said, ‘I’m really proud of myself.’ As a mentor, those are the sweetest, most rewarding words you can ever hope to hear. I floated home that night.”