These girls plan to right the world ...
PITTSFIELD — Four teenage women have put out a call around the world, and women around the world are answering them.
They have heard from India and Kazakhstan, Spain and Greece, Australia and states across the U.S. — in just the first few weeks of the semester.
Students at Miss Hall's have created an online literary magazine, Girls Right the World (girlsrighttheworld.com), and they are already building a global conversation. In two years they have gathered more than 15,000 followers on Facebook alone, from Paris to San Diego to Mexico, and their range of writers is widening by the day.
They invite fiction, nonfiction and poetry and artwork from women in their teens up to age 21.
"During that time you're trying to find yourself," said Serena Rice.
She and Evelyn Stewart, Maggie Zhang and Matilda Tran are all juniors at Miss Hall's, and they are this year's editorial team. On a rainy morning in October, at their second meeting of the new school year, they were already deep into submissions, an autobiographical essay, an experimental poem.
They talked about the kind of writing they value — writing that feels genuine and clear. They want supple language and raw emotion and craft. Writers who show courage move them, writers who admit failure and stand up to hostility and survive.
"We got a lot of submissions from girls from countries where they're not encouraged to write and have a voice," said Faia Kronick, one of last year's editorial team members. "We wanted to give them a way to share their voices."
Kronick, now a senior, joined with an interest in activism and advocacy and a love of reading. She wanted to build a place where women can speak freely, she said. She recalls stories and essays from women in Saudi Arabia, India, Pakistan, immigrant families in the U.S.
Reading their stories and working with her fellow editors has been the highlight of her high school years.
The magazine began two years ago, with two students — now alums — and faculty adviser and English teacher Emily Pulfer-Terino. At Miss Hall's, all of the students take part in service learning, Pulfer-Terino said. They take on projects, on campus and off.
These two students wanted to build a more global connection, and they realized in this digital age they could talk to women almost anywhere.
"My people smoke cigarettes before they can even read, if they ever read," Sahara Sidi writes in a cafe in Mauritania, in the magazine's first issue online. "Women don't question a tradition determined to cloak them in robes, despite the desert heat. They don't fight for their rights, because they don't think they need them."
Aashna Belenje, a student in California, lays out the pain of a day in a shop when the woman behind the counter refused to let her come up to buy clothing, because she has darker skin than the friends she had come with. Harnoor Mann, a medical student, wrote about trying to help a family when the father had been shot.
Reading stories like these led to debates and passionate conversations about the writing, Kronick said.
And this year's editors are joining in with a will.
"I didn't see a lot published by people my age," Stewart said.
She wanted to hear different viewpoints from different places, and she relates to these writers. She feels a connection often to their experiences, their pain and their pride.
Zhang is passionate about writing, and Rice has always loved reading and wanted to know what goes into making a magazine like this.
Tran has found that looking at writing from a publisher's perspective helps her to evaluate her own.
"I'm interested in the art of people around the world," she said, "in a more personal view of their lives, in new perspectives."
These writers have written out of strong feeling, Zhang said, and often they are finding a sense of identity, as a minority, as a bisexual, as an honest young adult trying to find sure footing. She glows over a poem the team has recently read and a phrase that feels deeply familiar for her, as though she and the writer are close kin.
"I'm amazed by how talented some of them are," she said — "such beautiful words and phrases and rhetorics."
Some themes come up over and over again, Pulfer-Terino said — identity, belonging, love, family, conflict. And some perspectives are unique to the writer and her own part of the world.
"We are acknowledging what is informing our lens," Pulfer-Terino said.
This year's editors are an international group, but as Americans many of them have a perspective shaped by this country.
They are talking about expanding to accept submissions in different languages, with translations.
"The community of Miss Halls is global," Pulfer-Terino said; between the students and the faculty they can find translators for many languages.
Kronick remembers two poems written by an American woman who had come to the U.S. from Vietnam. She wrote some lines in Vietnamese, Kronick said, and they were beautiful.
Priscilla Trinh, born in Massachusetts, writes about growing up not knowing her mother's native Vietnamese and learning the language as an adult — a tonal language where "each subtle flex produces a completely different meaning." Learning her mother's language teaches her patience and "quiet, blazing dignity." It teaches her a calm that comes with action. It looks forward, into the future, and builds.
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