Never Underestimate the Power of a Girl and Her Pen

Keren Taylor with members of WriteGirls

Keren Taylor with members of WriteGirls

March 12, 2014

“I left the corporate world, and I just didn’t want to go back to it,” said Keren Taylor. “I wanted to do something different that would be inspiring and bring women and girls together that might otherwise never meet each other.” Since then WriteGirl, Keren’s nonprofit and a 2009–11 Community Action Grantee, has continued to create successful mentor relationships between professional writers and at-risk girls who would otherwise have no creative outlet.

We had the opportunity to meet Keren and a few of the WriteGirl staff and participants when they were in Washington, D.C., to receive a 2013 National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award at the White House from first lady Michelle Obama. The young writer who accepted the award grew as a person during her trip, remaining poised throughout the award presentation, and is now able to say, “I have been to the White House. I can go anywhere.”

WriteGirl also participated in the 2014 Shriver Report launch event. The Shriver Report asked to have a WriteGirl alumna read a poem, so Keren tapped Lovely Umayam. Since WriteGirl, Lovely has since gone on to graduate school, contributes to the Bulletin of Atomic Studies and is working as a fellow at the U.S. Department of Energy working on nuclear policy. When Keren asked her, she said, “Oh my God, I haven’t written a poem in years!” Keren encouraged her, “I know your inner poet is alive and well. Dig her out and get it on paper!” Lovely’s poem, The Debt, brought the house down.

“It was a wonderful experience for her to get back to her creative self, even though she found it a struggle at first. It was a reminder for her that her creative roots are always right there at her fingertips,” said Keren.

Keren was also recently featured as CNN hero of the week for her dedication to keeping WriteGirl active, growing, and sustainable. “We help put the light on for those young people. Once they know that they have a story that is exciting to tell and that somebody would actually enjoy hearing it, it changes everything. It gives them a voice,” she said.

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Since its beginning as a one-on-one mentoring program, WriteGirl has expanded into schools and education programs for young, incarcerated women. With all the press and accomplishments lately, interest in the program has skyrocketed. More volunteers want to get involved as mentors, and more girls want to participate. Amazingly, all this success comes from just two full-time staff members, several part-time staff, and a ton of volunteer labor.

WriteGirls was founded in 2001, and 100 percent of their graduating seniors have gone on to college. “One of the most satisfying things is now hearing stories from some of the girls who are graduating from college,” said Keren. “They’re all choosing to take roles that are in service. They want to help their community; they’re almost uniformly selecting a profession that is going to benefit others. Honestly I can’t think of anything more gratifying than that.”

Of AAUW, Keren said, “[To be given a grant] by an organization that is so focused on helping women is a kick of inspiration for us. Not only financial assistance, [AAUW provides] a philosophical support from women that we respect and an organization that has had such a long history.”

Keren Taylor’s grant for WriteGirl was sponsored by the Mooneen Lecce Giving Circle. 


The Debt
by Lovely Umayam

It was said
That with a rib came the genesis of woman.
Entire flesh made from bone.
My wholeness pieced together by only a fraction of one.
Perhaps this is why I never seem enough,
And feel a  burden of debt —
A sense of existence to exist for another,
The way Eve is only possible after the Sun sets,
How daughters give rise to sons
But they’re never permitted
To shine quite as much.

This feeling of debt predates me.
With history as witness it had weighed others before
With a force that sinks hearts.
They can never find their right positions again.
When mothers are told to leave their passions in the kitchens,
Better to break dreams near the sink
To avoid a larger mess.

When women are left wanting for their worth,
Searching nooks and crannies
To fit the definition of labor.
Or like strained dough, we stretch
To make space, but often reach a breaking point instead.

Girls are taught they are only tall
When their heels click the floor, to walk
With grace even when it feels more like
Treading on eggshells.
“The taller the shoe, the better,” they say,
But there are no warnings about low ceilings
And the discomfort of being boxed into a label.
Perhaps it would have been better to stay small.

Sometimes, there is no distinction between debtor and transaction.
For centuries women swapped spaces,
Switched time zones to trade ourselves
Both willingly and by force.
We create patterns swirling in and out,
Up and down the blues and browns of maps
With no particular Polaris.

And with all of this, women have depreciated.
No place in the guns and butter calculus
Because our powers of production are a given
In a world where demand for guns is high
And everyone else can eat whatever they want
Except for me.
I have to look out for my figure
In order to be counted.

Still, we are magic.
Despite the debt we choose to live free.
Profit is nothing but a number —
We rise from heartbreaks
Not out of love with another,
But from learning how to love ourselves
This is what makes us rich.
On a budget, but we gamble anyway —
I want my daughter to take risks
So she can make change.

Made of bone, we create life, the bedrock of the universe.
We surpass value
As we are the genesis of everything.

By:   |   March 12, 2014

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