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Teen Writing Workshop offers a safe space for writers

Writings gathered at the end of the workshop.
By Haley Doran and Emma McQuade

Ithaca College seniors Amanda Livingston and Alexa Salvato are facilitators for the Teen Writing Workshop at the Tompkins County Public Library, a program which fosters a community for writers in six to 10th grade.

The workshop builds an inclusive community where writers of different ages, sexualities and genders in the Tompkins County area can gather to express their voices through creative writing.  Livingston said a space for young writers to share their work is important.

“Having that safe space is having the space to share,” said Livingston.  “We always leave 15 to 20 minutes at the end for everyone to share a part of their work, which helps them develop their voices.”

The Teen Writing Workshop is a Writopia Mentors program, a satellite program of Writopia Lab based in New York City.  Both Livingston and Salvato have been involved with Writopia Lab in their hometown branches, Livingston for two years and Salvato for five years.  The Workshop has been at the Tompkins County Public Library for six semesters.  Livingston has been a facilitator for a year and a half and Salvato for almost two years.

Many writers attend different schools in the Tompkins County area and only know each other through the bond they have created while attending the workshop.  Salvato said they are able to express themselves differently at the workshop.  She remembered one writer who shared how she changed throughout her time at the workshop.

“She read a poem that she had written about her experience in workshop and she talked all about how she’s usually quiet and she had never shared before and felt so comfortable in this group,” said Salvato.  “Hearing that from her was the most gratifying thing ever.”

Livingston and Salvato said they often talk about compassion, empathy and respect, which led to talks about President Donald Trump and Democratic Party’s nominee Hillary Clinton during the election cycle.  According to Livingston, the group allowed for a space where the writers could freely talk about what was happening.  She noted that this could be one of the few spaces in their lives where they could talk openly about politics without being swayed by family members or the community.  The workshop met the day after the Presidential election, and Livingston said many writers were upset.  Livingston told the writers to express how they felt in any format they wanted.  The writers wrote in a variety of styles from raps to personal essays.   

“This one girl wrote a personal essay about how her whole day went at school,” said Livingston.  “She was comforting her friends and she had an argument with some kid at lunch.”

Rose Abrams Fitzgerald, a thirteen-year-old student at Elizabeth Ann Clune Montessori, has been attending the workshop for two semesters.  She was inspired to write her latest novel about two lesbian women during World War Two during the workshop.

“Normally I’m really dissatisfied with my writing,” said Fitzgerald.  “But when I come here, I can’t just backspace. I learn to go with the flow and continue writing, and more importantly, more often than not, it turns out pretty decent.”

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