I’m representing Philadelphia Women’s Writing Workshops.

We coordinate free workshops for women of all ages, and provide the journals, pens, snacks, childcare, and bus fare whenever needed. We are a network of experienced teaching artists who volunteer our time and pay for supplies out of pocket. Collectively, we are exploring themes of voice, place, and identity amongst a diversity of women. Our goals are to help women grow in confidence and creativity, break down social isolation, strengthen community, and bring attention to the realities of women’s social, economic, and political exclusion, particularly in impoverished and marginalized communities. We use readings, print and web-based anthologies, exhibits, and more to build a more visible and unified community of women. We meet at shelters, clinics, transitional homes, schools, churches, and community centers. Our participants’ interests and experiences shape and guide each workshop. For example, in a workshop at Thea Bowman Women’s Center in Kensington, the women wanted to get better at writing, and have a therapeutic outlet to use in their recovery processes. We used poetry and collaborative writing exercises to document life on Kensington Avenue. We came away with a kaleidoscope of metaphors, imagery, and stories of the neighborhood, and we watched several women go from being scared of a blank page, to filling pages using the new writing tools they’d learned. Our newest workshop is called Writing the Self Portrait. We’re offering it to teens at Honickman Learning Center in North Philly. It’s an empowering arts education experience, combining art history, feminist theory, and self-reflection through writing and photography exercises.

We’ll study the self-portraits of Cindy Sherman, Carrie Mae Weems, and Zoe Strauss. These are contemporary photographers whose work speaks to the communal and individual nature of identity. We’ll talk about the ways culture, education, gender, class, and family shape personal identity. We’ll use creative writing exercises to think about these influences, and excavate the roots of our self-image. Students will also compose and shoot their own portraits in class, documenting their own progress week by week. We hope this will be the first of many Writing the Self Portrait workshops throughout Philadelphia. That’s why success of this first session is so important. We will use today’s grant to (1) buy food and classroom materials, (2) Print and frame students’ photos for a gallery exhibit, (3) Print a booklet of students photos and writing for them to own and distribute, and (4) Create a web-based collection of students’ work that we can add to with each new workshop, ultimately becoming a platform for young women’s voices in Philadelphia. Our goal is to help young women distinguish the false and limiting from the authentic and brave within themselves and others. Your vote will help multiply this workshop across the city, linking young women from different neighborhoods who might otherwise never interact. Thank you for your support!

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