In 2001, poet and singer/songwriter Keren Taylor combined her passion for writing and inspiring girls to create WriteGirl, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit organization for high school girls centered on the craft of creative writing and empowerment through self-expression.
Ten years later, WriteGirl continues to have a big impact – it even recently received the California Nonprofit of the Year Medal for Service! The added bonus? Keren gets to live her dream while creating change by teaching girls how to write everything from screenplays to sonnets, and in the process, how to write their futures.
We recently had the chance to get the inside scoop from Keren on her life and her work:
HofG: What inspired you to create WriteGirl?
Keren: I have been a volunteer and a community organizer for many different nonprofits, and I think it’s tremendously exciting to bring together women and girls who otherwise might never meet, and give them the space and support to help each other. Women writers have a great deal to offer teen girls; and the school system, as it stands currently, is not able to give girls the one-on-one attention they need.
HofG: WriteGirl’s mentorship program pairs professional women writers with teen girls. Why do you think this kind of mentorship is important?
Keren: I was fortunate to have many fantastic mentors as a teen, and I know how valuable that was in helping me develop self-confidence, as well as my writing abilities. I think that all girls benefit from having someone help them, inspire them, encourage them, and work with them on their writing and their goals for the future. Writing is the one skill that girls need, regardless of what field of study they choose. As one of our girls said to me, “Because of WriteGirl, I feel like I can write my way out of anything!”
HofG: 100% of girls who’ve participated in WriteGirl so far have graduated from high school and enrolled in college. That is some serious changemaking!
Keren: There are many factors that contribute to this success: girls have individualized guidance, they are part of a supportive community, they do a great deal of writing through the program, and we have a strong commitment to maintaining this 100% success rate.
HofG: You connect your creative and artistic talents with your commitment to community involvement. What motivates you to do this?
Keren: It is fantastic to be surrounded by creative women and girls every day, in an environment where self-expression is not only encouraged but required, where respect is expected, where being “different” or bold is welcome. I’m talking about both our creative writing workshops as well as our office vibe.
HofG: What valuable lessons in leadership have you learned through creating and running WriteGirl?
Keren: Never give up. Know that you don’t know all aspects of a situation, and you may never know. Assume that people are generous and kind, and help them nurture those qualities in themselves. Lead by example – be the change. Be yourself – every leader is unique. Seek solutions, don’t dwell on criticism. Consider how different every single person is, and set aside expectations to allow yourself to really see and understand each person’s unique perspective and abilities. Set goals that are slightly out of reach. Accept change. Accept rejection. Accept success.
HofG: What advice would you give you to teen girls who want to write, but don’t have a program like WriteGirl in their community?
Keren: When you are mad, write about it. When you are bored, write about that. When you are waiting in line somewhere, write about the people around you, the sounds, the smells. And read – read menus, signs, instructions on shampoo bottles, the inside of your shoes….let reading inspire you to play with language and play with your ideas.
HofG: Last question–what do you love most about your job?
Keren: I love that we are pioneers in some ways, creating something new that did not exist before. There is nothing like WriteGirl, and as much as I have been part of helping build this dynamic organization, it is all the fantastic women and girls who have joined who have really made it what it is. I love that my job is ultimately about being creative, all day, every day.
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