Y-WE Write: Reflections from Participants

In August, we welcomed a group of young women to our Legacy Forest for Y-WE Write, a literacy and leadership camp which organizers called “a 5-day exploration of young women’s voices, stories, dreams and talents.”

The camp is a collaboration between two of our Program Partners—Hedgebrook and Young Women Empowered—with leadership from Nadia Cheney and Dev Majkut as well as a group of inspiring volunteer mentors and authors.

This week, we spoke with mentor Shae Savoy and participant Livia Lomne about their experiences in this program. Additionally, we were privileged to preview some writing that Livia has recently done as part of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). We’ve shared that excerpt below.

Shae Savoy describes herself as a poet and youth empowerment educator, and said that after Y-WE Write she joined Young Women Empowered as a staff member and facilitator. Being a Y-WE Write mentor was profoundly moving, both in how she witnessed girls being nurtured and in how she experienced the week herself.

“From the very beginning we intentionally created a unique, supportive, electrifying community for the girls and the women,” she said.  Shae then spoke of what she called “positive girl culture,” which for some girls was a new experience. “These girls got to experience real solidarity and sisterhood—and were continuously invited into their highest selves.”

Shae pointed to intergenerational mentorship and diversity-focused recruitment as strengths of the program. “Girls are learning not only across generations, but across ethnicity, culture, and nationality.”

The camp activities ranged from writing to movement, dance, singing, and theatre, and campers ranged from girls who had already completed a play or novel to those who had only just begun to consider writing. The message that each got, according to Shae, was clear: “Your voice is not only allowed, but your voice is necessary. We need you, and everything you have to say is important.” Shae spoke of a “palpable sense of power,” which was experienced by both students and mentors. “There was healing that happened in me, for my inner girl—and I’m sure that was the case for many.” Shae went on to describe how powerful the Chinook Land itself was as a container for this work. “Almost every day, someone mentioned their gratitude for the place, the land, the gardens. How grateful I was to be in that space, on that land, in that energy that’s held there all the time!”

Livia Lomne, a 9th grader, also had a profound feeling of community, and connection to the land, during Y-WE Write. “It’s not every day that I get to hang out with and befriend a large group of amazing teen writers,” she said. “It was a truly inspiring week. The forests and my home seemed filled with new life.” Likening the camp experience to “forming a new family,” Livia said she made lasting connections. She said she looks forward to the next time a group of writers can come together at the Whidbey Institute, “to meet each other, [and to] meet another part of themselves for the first time.”

Livia spoke not only to the quality of the camp as a whole but also to its impact on her writing. “Experiencing other peoples’ writing gave me more confidence,” she said. “Most people my age that I know don’t write. There, I wasn’t the only kid around who was writing. And [the atmosphere] was completely positive—I felt like I could really share.” Livia said that working with writers like Karen Finneyfrock was a highlight of her week, and that conversation among camp participants was generative and well-balanced. “The conversations really helped ideas grow. Our conversations about world-building [for example] were enthusiastic, warm, and friendly.” She said the time together helped her in developing the details of her own fictional worlds and gave her the feeling that she was helping others.

Talking with Livia, I got the impression of a powerful, lifelong writer with many stories yet to tell. My interview with Shae Savoy left me wondering in how many ways Livia and her peers will leave their marks on the world. Shae feels that empowering young women in this way can heal the world. “This is world-changing, culture-changing work. To empower our girls and women to step into leadership positions—in their own lives, in their communities, and beyond—it’s absolutely critical to turning the tide on all the pain and chaos that’s happening in the world. Economically, socially, environmentally. These girls are going to do it!”

Each November, writers from around the world participate in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), striving to write at least 50,000 words in 30 days. Here’s an excerpt from Livia’s novel in progress:

         The smell of parchment soothed Laurel as she settled into the well-worn armchair that filled most of her study. The scent had long seeped into the thick cushions and scarlet cloth, oozing out in long breathy sighs as she sunk into the seat, body fatigued after a long session. She had earned the short rest, she had decided, the strain of the day and the darkness outside growing heavy on her thin shoulders. The musty texts lay on her dark-wooded writing desk, curling paper stark as sun-bleached bone against the nearly black wood. The language written in flowing text was ancient, strangely dotted lines and swirls looking more like vines than paragraphs. The dead tongues were beautiful, and she regretted the aftermath of her skill, the documents lost. A pile of blank parchment had gathered beside her, some of the older texts already crumbling into dust. She mourned the loss of the knowledge, even though she knew that it was for the best, that she was gaining the knowledge for a greater cause, and that they would have lain in the vaults beneath her chambers until another would try to read them, but the reality of the pages sucked dry of all knowledge was still sobering for her.
        Laurel groaned, rubbing her long fingers against her temples to loosen the ache that came with so much new information. She loved what she did, after she mourned the loss of the texts she truly did adore the knowledge, the surge of pride when the old letters were deciphered in her head into the common tongue, when she learned the secrets of long-lost kingdoms and how to open the vaults in mountains whose name had been lost to history. The thrill was worth the strain, but it all depended on the end result, and what she was trying to find could wipe out entire kingdoms.
        She settled, fingertips resting on the smooth parchment, and breathed. Her magic washed over her skin in shimmering eddies, trickling down her shoulders and pooling at her wrist in silver puddles that ran down into the dips of her palms and onto the paper. The silver mingled with the ink, first turning grey, then with a single bright flash turned midnight black, the page now blank and she was up to her forearms in darkness, the silver edge slithering up as the darkness receded, eventually disappearing until she collapsed back, her skin grey and eyes weary. Her hands were shaking; the drain this time was far greater, it felt as if she had all the wind knocked out of her and her head was pounding. She started to stand, but the ending of the spell hit her again and she sagged like a felled tree onro the carpeted floor. The mountains to the East, a valley, humalrentia vi naspart, great doors of gold, the amber forge. A scrambled translation pounded its way into her skull, the common tongue flowing into Amartine and then back again, images from the writer’s mind, a scribe, hunched and wizened, scratching out the long words with a quill made of phoenix feather and gold.
        She coughed once, gasping for air, the words still spinning like a child toy in her mind, too fast to be read, taunting her with phrases and words that had slipped from her grasp in the flurry of information. She had overworked herself, the council would not be pleased with the translation. A partial decryption was better than none, but the backlash from the half-jumbled words was worse than it had ever been. With shaking hands, she drew herself up, brushed off her robes, and sat again.
        In the flowing script she reserved for only the most formal of letters Laurel composed her report, the careful writing shaken and sloppier than she would have liked, weariness seeping into her bones. She leaned back to let the scroll of parchment dry, watching as her hands stopped shaking little by little, and feeling as the new found wisdom settled, re-organizing itself and sorting like rubble shifting and eventually coming to rest.
        The candles lining her suite had burned down, flames flickering and fluttering like a bird struggling to stay aloft in a hurricane, amber light guttering and swaying, some had already extinguished, the scent of dead flame filling the air like a cloying perfume. Through her window Laurel could just see over the edge of the ravine, the moonlight striking down through the stagnant air like beams of pure energy sent by the gods to cleave the darkness of that covers what lies below the underground city in two. She could see lights from above her, orange halos from terraces and plazas nearer to the surface, and the always shining silver glow from the council chambers, a constant cold light even in the height of a summer day.
        Laurel had turned back to her desk, tied the report with the scarlet ribbon she used as her signature, and had just begun to stand when there was a soft knock on her door. She called out a greeting, and heard the door creak open, and then shut again with a rather unceremonious thud.
        “Celdrin are you abusing my door again?” Even though her voice was weary her tone was lighthearted, no need to worry her friend. There was a sigh from the other room and in it she could hear him rubbing the back of his neck sheepishly, brow furred, a small apologetic smile on his face. She had threatened to make him replace it several times now, and more recently had nearly made him enchant the damn thing so when he swung it so hard it would swing back. The idea was rather unpopular with her friend.
         “I may be, and it doesn’t deserve it, I know. The council sent me, they need a report from you and are requesting your presence.” She peeked around the corner to see him lounging on her couch, long legs sprawled across the entire plush seat, hands held lazily behind his head, the picture of comfort. She tossed the scroll at him, one of his arms shooting up to catch it while the other still supported his head, the effortlessness in which he caught it irritated her, she wasn’t in the mood for showoffs, and mages were always showoffs.
        Laurel thumped down next to him, perching on the arm of the couch, sliding down as he groaned and made room for her, and sighed.
        “Long day?” His pale eyes were concerned, and she nodded.

December 3, 2014

People & Partners