5 Lessons I Learned About Writing from the Girls of Gugulethu

Huffington Post, July 29, 2015

When I went to South Africa in 2010 to lead a creative writing club for teenage girls, I made sure to emphasize that word: club. I had never taught writing before, didn’t have a teaching assistantship as I earned an MFA in nonfiction. I would not be correcting their grammar, nor assigning homework. Besides, how could I persuade girls to spend their Saturday afternoons in a writing class?

As it turned out, they did not need persuading. Every week for a year, anywhere from four to 22 girls showed up at a community center in Gugulethu, a black township about 10 miles outside Cape Town and a place where schools often lack libraries. The girls would spend a couple of hours writing, reading their words aloud, and listening to their peers do the same. I offered a prompt — a word or phrase, a question, a poem or song lyrics — to get them going. Then everyone would write for a set amount of time, whatever came to mind, wherever the prompt led. This forum was meant for the girls to discover what they had to say, what they thought and believed. It was a chance for them to hear their own voices. …

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