On April 23, Corey Mattia and Nicole Pendleton sat down to discuss their service-learning project, the Write Your Story Workshop. Corey and Nicole led the ten-week writers workshop at Girls Incorporated Pinellas for young female writers ages nine to fourteen.
Corey Mattia: I miss the girls; I knew I would. I know you do too. Two weeks out from our Chapbook Celebration and I already feel their absence. It got me thinking about community and our experience there. In reality, we became members of two communities. In the first, through the partnership with Girls Inc Pinellas, we fostered a new group of young writers that could learn about craft—poetry and creative nonfiction. As you know, Girls Inc normally creates programs in house, but what was unique about the Write Your Story Workshop, and the way we marketed it, is that it became a new entity for the organization and the community around Girls Inc.
Nicole Pendleton: Right! Many of our participants joined the workshop from outside the Girls Inc organization. That’s what formed our second community. Our writers worked within, yet was separate from the larger organization. And these writers really bonded, becoming a cohesive group of young people who found expression and camaraderie through our program. Girls Inc was logistics and the workshop was experience and artistic expression. The symbiotic relationship will continue, I think, as long as Girls Inc is able to create new partnerships.
CM: I’m certain with the program we designed, Girls Inc will be able to offer creative writing workshops going forward. The structure of the ten-week workshop and the lesson plans were clear and concise, but also allowed room for growth. For example, during our first meeting we gave the girls that brief overview of creative writing. Then, took a deeper dive into poetry. What is poetry?, we asked them.
I remember on that first day, we focused on sound and its role in poems and Mack wrote Leaf during workshop. I was overwhelmed at her use of language and understanding of imagery. Jada‘s In the Ocean also incorporated some great visual imagery as well as some repetition. And I remember Jayda’s The Bunny, how the room erupted in laughter. She was incredibly eager to share her writing whenever she was in workshop.
NP: Then, the second day’s lesson was all about sensory detail. That day had the biggest impact on the group. They all mentioned that in the interview video. They loved going outside! Taking them outside, allowing them to experience of leaning on a tree or listening to the noises of the neighborhood or burying their nose in a pile of leaves created a direct connection to the lesson. One of the pieces I was most impressed with was by one of our youngest writers. She wrote Sweet Potato Pie that day:
So the smell of brown leaves
tastes like my mom’s
sweet potato pies cooking in the oven.
What an incredible first stanza on the second day of workshop. This should be performed as spoken word!
CM: I completely agree. The graphic poetry also seemed to really resonate with them. Every piece was detailed and thoughtful. S.N.’s When We Breathe, and Jillian’s The Moon, were stand out pieces. Everyone’s work was way beyond what I ever expected from the fourth day of workshop!
NP: I thought the writers did a good job of incorporating what they learned in poetry into their creative nonfiction work, as well. Some of the younger girls had a more difficult time with memoir. But Londynnn and S.N. produced some deeply personal and finely wrought work. JASquareRoot gave us an emotional story, “Ava,” about moving away from someone you care about. That’s not to say that the younger participants didn’t do well. They did! But they definitely showed a predisposition toward poetry.
Miranda : Memories (read by Corey)
CM: Miranda Rodriguez produced some very powerful, reflective poetry during the creative nonfiction part of workshop. She found a way of incorporating what we were learning about memoir into her poetry with a great deal of success.
Corey Mattia on the writers’ intuition
NP: Teaching the young writers was an incredible joy. And they taught me, too. I came in with this preconception, especially with the younger participants, that there would be a greater learning curve when it came to them internalizing the elements of poetry. Yet, they immediately grasped every one of the concepts we introduced. Their intuition and depth of feeling was almost overwhelming.
S.N. : Gray
CM: The celebration day itself was such a positive experience. There was a jubilant feeling in the air among the students and their families. I was very happy to have the moms and dads see first-hand how excited their daughters were to show off all their work. It created such a warm atmosphere. The last day also proved ripe for some spontaneous poetry. The electric feelings I experienced seemed to be infectious because two different students, Londynn and Josie, were inspired to write poetry while they were visiting with their friends. They both read their pieces at the open mic that we had at the end of the day. It was proof of concept in action.
Londynn : Compass
Josie : I’m Sorry
NP: So much of that day was about witnessing the positive effect the Girls, Inc organization and our writing class had in everyone’s lives, ours included. While it was wonderful to hear and see these pieces being read aloud and performed, the chapbook really showcased the girls’ artistic talent, as well. We worked on graphic poetry and some of the art they created for that was beautiful. I only wish we had an overhead projector to show off, for instance, Maddy’s Sinking In sketch. These girls are so damn creative!
CM: One of our favorite students, Alexis, ended up missing the last two classes before the celebration. At first, it was disappointing because she always came ready to participate and we wondered where she had gone. But, we understand that life happens sometimes. Anyway, she showed up on the celebration day ready to get her picture taken and read some of her work. Her mother pulled us aside at the end of the day and told us she watched the change in her daughter’s confidence and sense of purpose and insisted that Alexis make it to this final class to celebrate the great experience this had been. We were so happy to see the smile on her face as she entered the room. Alexis looked so proud—and we were proud of her!
Alexis : Socks
NP: I think one of the benefits of a class like Write Your Story is the families of the students, Girls, Inc, and the community at-large, can see the tangible effect creative writing and expression can have on young women. These students really put their whole selves into the workshop and into each piece. Maybe at the beginning there were some technical skills they needed to work on, but they came in each day ready to write, to go through each exercise and see what they could make out of it.
CM: It was also really nice to see the friendships formed and overall camaraderie in class. We had a diverse group of students, girls who may not have met otherwise. Seeing their work ethic, the way they communicated with one another, and the intuition and depth of feeling they were walking in with everyday gave us some insight into their backgrounds. This all came to fruition on the last day of class when we saw each student walk in with their parents and siblings. It was a unique way to meet someone—through poetry, through the revealing of these deep emotions and thoughts. Then, they walked into that last day and it was like “okay, here is who I am the rest of the week.” What a profound experience to be able to share that with them.