Volume 78 / Number 1 - June 4 - 10, 2008
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since

Photo courtesy Amy Goldwasser

Amy Goldwasser

The book that emerged from Amy Goldwasser’s volunteer efforts at the Lower Eastside Girls Club. It includes the writing of almost 60 teenage girls, some of whom are members of the Girls Club.

Writing pro helps get teen girls fired up in ‘Red’

By Joy Wiltermuth

The book is red, not pink, and has a purpose. Amy Goldwasser, a freelance editor and writer, has volunteered at the Lower Eastside Girls Club for nearly four years. Last November, she compiled the writings of 58 teenage girls into a book, “Red: The next generation of American writers — Teenage Girls — on what Fires up their lives today.”

The book is a collection of essays, written by teenage girls in their own voices and on their own terms. Goldwasser founded the first writing and blogging program at the Lower Eastside Girls Club, and the dividends are paying off. The authors of “Red” are now linked up with the Huffington Post, contributing as teen social and political pundits and commenting on a range of issues, from racism and sexuality to popular culture.

“Everybody in the community wants to get involved at the Girls Club,” said Goldwasser, who moved to the Lower East Side six years ago. She kept peeking in on the club’s dance studio at 56 E. First St. and wanted to get her foot in the door.

Fifteen years of freelance work for prominent magazines provided Goldwasser with plenty of experience to share. She started by working one-on-one with the girls, editing everything from college admission essays and podcasts to movie scripts.

“It was all about recognizing writing as a fun part of girls’ lives, not something they had to do,” Goldwasser explained. “It was very freeing.”

The girls wrote about everything, from body image to Johnny Depp.

“Whatever they wrote was so true to their personality,” Goldwasser said. “Professional writers know how to please people,” she noted. But she said the teenagers surprised her and were less restricted in their writing. “Their essays didn’t have a proper beginning, middle and end. That was kind of thrilling to me,” she said.

“I came to realize how much more excited I was about the writing I was getting from the girls than the writing I was getting from professional writers in my day job,” she added. Goldwasser called the book a “selfish” endeavor, trying, as she put it, “to make this volunteer work a part of my professional life.”

She sent out a call for writing and ended up with 800 essays from girls across the country.

“This baby became the book,” she said. There were no guidelines or criteria, “as long as they were writing for fun and what they wrote had to be the truth,” Goldwasser said.

Cindy Morand, 19, grew up in an affluent community in Mexico. Hers was a biracial household, with a French father and Mexican mother, and she was a “superstar,” Goldwasser said. But her father fell ill and sought treatment in New York City, a move that landed Morand in a new high school. She lacked a command of English and ended her up in slow classes. It was a two-year transition before Morand adjusted to her new circumstances, a bedroom she shared with her sister and the Lower East Side.

“A new high school is more cruel than a new country,” Goldwasser said. Morand was depressed and crying nearly every day. Her essay is an intimate reflection of her experience from that period.

“She talks about racism in Mexico, too. It is a whole new way at looking at racism,” Goldwasser said of Morand’s essay. “She just says it like it is.”

Morand decided to take control and pushed herself to learn English. She became active in the Girls Club, where she found community and a firm footing. By her senior year, Morand was taking advanced-placement classes. Now at the University of Buffalo, she is studying business administration and finance.

Justine Kayumba, 15, lives two blocks away from the Lower East Side Girls Club and got involved with it in 2002.

“My mother said I was reading too much and getting fatter. She said I needed to get out and meet people,” Kayumba said. She was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo, but was raised in South Africa. She moved to the Lower East Side with her family, one week after Sept. 11, 2001.

Kayumba wrote a review for “Red,” which appears on the back of its upcoming paperback edition.

“I was so proud of her,” Kayumba said of Morand’s essay. “I felt I was in the same position.” After her move to New York, Kayumba said, like Morand, she became antisocial.

“I am a poet,” she said, and expressed enthusiasm for Goldwasser’s contributions to the Girls Club. “I am thankful for girls having a way to express their emotions.”

“It is all about recognizing the girls as legitimate authors,” Goldwasser stated. “I was really careful not to do anything patronizing or girly with it. It is all against the puffy-pink stereotype of the teenager girl.”

By day, Goldwasser continues her career as a freelance magazine editor. She has worked for publications such as Seventeen, The New Yorker and New York magazine.

“This is what I hoped,” she said of her work at the Girls Club. “It is the purest kind of editing and the most fun. I would never dream to put words in their mouths. I am not a teenager girl.”

The Lower Eastside Girls Club was founded in 1996 in response to the fact that the area had two Boys’ Clubs but no girls’ clubs. In the late 1980s, the Boys’ Club of New York opted out of a merger that integrated the Boys & Girls Clubs of America across the nation. The Lower East Side was the last to hold onto the “boys only” restriction, and mothers, artists, educators and community activists responded by forming the Girls Club. The Lower Eastside Girls Club provides leadership skills, activities and workshops for girls to engage their community. For more information on how to volunteer, contact Jenny Dembrow at 212-982-1633 ext. 101.

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