To celebrate International Women’s Day on 8 March, we commissioned two of our writers to produce original creative writing-resources for use by other First Story Writers-in-Residence and by teachers at our partner schools.
Continuing our efforts to amplify underrepresented voices and experiences in the classroom that began with the BHM resources and the LGBT+ resources, we’ve commissioned a series of resource to celebrate International Women’s Day.
At the heart of First Story’s work is our mission to provide a platform for young people to tell their own stories, about their own lives, using their own words.
We want to empower young female writers to share their personal perspectives but also to encourage all writers, teachers, and students, whatever their sex or gender identity, to explore the cultural contributions made by female writers through these creative writing activities.
In order to achieve this, Christina Lewis and Cecilia Knapp (who is currently Young People’s Laureate for London) have put together a series of creative-writing workshops that explore the themes of power, expectation and choice and speak directly to First Story’s pedagogy.
We’re immensely grateful to both contributors for the fantastic selection of activities they have put together. Our hope is that the resources are something writers, schools, and students will turn to again and again, not just in the context of International Women’s Day, but throughout the year.
Here we share each of the writers’ forewords, as a taster of what to expect from this exceptional new resource pack.
I was lucky enough to be a First Story Writer-in-residence at Fulham Cross Girls school for two years in a row, both in 2018 and 2019. Each week, inevitably, we would discuss, we would challenge, we would respond to, and write about what it feels like to be a young woman today.
I always start my First Story residencies, and indeed all my workshops, with a discussion about the power of writing; how writing can help us to confront and understand ourselves, how it can reach out to others and provide a language for their own experiences, and how it is truly the greatest breeder of empathy, how seeing other’s stories on the page encourages compassion. What greater way than writing to explore the joy, the challenges, the frustrations, the sheer injustices, and the unique and myriad experience of being a woman?
I think a lot about this question of visibility of female writers. If young women don’t see themselves on the bookshelves in school, where will they learn that writing is a space for them to have their say?
Growing up, most of the books I saw celebrated, both in school and outside of school, seemed to be written by a certain type of man. Combine the lack of visibility of female writers with the insecurities that young women are taught from an early age, how they can be patronised or directed towards a female standard that was never invented by them, and what you get is a child who doesn’t feel empowered to write.
I think a lot about this question of visibility of female writers. If young women don’t see themselves on the bookshelves in school, where will they learn that writing is a space for them to have their say? Women’s lives still comes with many challenges, some of which I myself will never know. And these challenges need to be elevated, spoken from the mouths of those who have lived them. But beyond this, women deserve to simply have access to writing and the impact it can have, to be able to express themselves, say whatever they want to say, regardless of whether it is directly about struggling, to discover who they are through writing, to be shown their story matters and be empowered by that fact.
I’m proud to be a female – and working class – writer, brought up by a long line of women who didn’t conform, weren’t scared to go against expectation, and didn’t care what anyone else thought; not men, not other women, not anyone. This was crushingly embarrassing as a teenager and young adult, but I’m glad of it now. Drifting somewhat aimlessly through school, I remember hearing the Maya Angelou poem ‘Still I Rise’ for the first time, and it was like a marker was drawn in the sand. Why didn’t I know these words already?
I’ve had the absolute privilege of working with a number of First Story schools and colleges, most recently an all-female group in Hull College that I think blew us all away. If there was ever a snapshot of growing up female in the 21st century, this was it; gender roles, societal expectations, dreams, desires, social media pressures, all laid bare. Is this what it means to be female in the 2020’s?
I feel beyond lucky to be a writer, because I’ve always got a way of dealing with whatever’s on my mind. If I’m stressed or happy or angry or crushed, I’ve got words to try and ease it, or at least get it out of myself and onto paper.
Being a woman full stop, never mind a female writer, isn’t always the easiest of experiences. There’s been a lot of professional assumptions made about me over the years – oh, you write poetry, yes? It’s not the first form I’d lean towards. You must have written articles for those glossy women’s mags? Nope. It must be terrifying as a woman, working in a prison? Probably just daunting for anyone, whatever their gender. Where we should sit, as artists, is down only to us. To be a woman isn’t a monolith. It’s not a one-size-fits-all suit, because no one wears that well.
I feel beyond lucky to be a writer, because I’ve always got a way of dealing with whatever’s on my mind. If I’m stressed or happy or angry or crushed, I’ve got words to try and ease it, or at least get it out of myself and onto paper. In ‘Spelling’, Margaret Atwood says ‘a word after a word / after a word is power’, and it is – not just in your own writing, but through that of others. Read great writers. Read Atwood and Angelou and Toni Morrison and Flannery O’Connor and Shirley Jackson and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Ask all the questions. Always ask, is it really a choice? And if not, why not?
All participating schools will be given access to the full resource. Find out how to become a First Story school here.