Recently I had the honor of attending a writing workshop led by the creators of the incredibly awesome Power Writers Program. Before participating, all us workshoppers watched the award-winning documentary, To Be Heard, about three teens from the South Bronx who enter into the Power Writers Program and emerge as "accomplished self-aware artists, who use their creativity to alter their circumstances."
To Be Heard: Trailer from nicole films on Vimeo.
What is the Power Writers program?
The Power Writers program is a multidimensional poetry class for young people that aims to give student participants "a deep sense of ownership of the world around them and a deep appreciation of their personal life narrative."
The Power Writers program has visited urban and suburban schools; elementary, middle, and high schools; and public, private and alternative schools - basically any school where they're invited.
The founders I met - Roland, Joe, and Amy - were kind, passionate, strikingly open people who I felt incredibly lucky to have the chance to talk to. (Especially after seeing them in To Be Heard… I was starstruck!) Roland, Joe and Amy have a clear goal: to help teens across the country write and speak their personal truth and empower themselves as they do it.
This is vital because, as the Power Writers motto says, "If you don't learn how to write your life story, someone else will write it for you."
Why It Matters to YA Writers
I was totally blown away by the movie when I watched it, and the workshop - in which we were encouraged through multiple methods to speak our truths, with no boundaries - was equally amazing. The whole time, I was reminded of YA literature, and how YA gives an important sense of vocality to all teenagers by expressing their real, true experiences and feelings to a large audience - even if they're not the ones doing the writing.
In the case of the Power Writers Program, teens are the ones expressing their own experiences, as truthfully and as meaningfully they can. Which is something that - as a YA writer - I find seriously cool.
And I think if you're a YA writer, it's easy to apply all these ideas about truth to your writing. A lot of the time we're tempted to get lost in the details, in whether this plot turn is exciting enough, and/or whether this sentence gets your message across perfectly.
But after seeing To Be Heard and participating in a Power Writers workshop, I would argue that the perfection of the story doesn't matter nearly as much as the fact that the story is being told - and that the story is true. Blazingly, painfully, bluntly true, whatever that means for your teenage main character and for you.
How do you uncover this truth? Look at your own experience, look at your friends' experiences - and then stop looking at it and start feeling it as something real. As a YA writer, you can serve as a voice for a teen who hasn't quite learned to use their voice yet. And maybe, with your unspoken support, they'll be that much closer to writing their own life story.
Thanks for reading! Will you watch To Be Heard? What are your thoughts on the Power Writers Program? What do you think about the importance of personal storytelling?