A sisterhood of writers: Young and old, they explore their craft together

In her 12 years of life, Audrey Watkins has produced hundreds of pages of writing and is deep into her first novel. So passionate is she about the craft that her mother, Amy Watkins, asked Island storyteller and writing teacher Merna Hecht to coach the sixth-grader.

Then, during one of their writing sessions, the young writer sparked an idea. There were lots of book clubs, she noted, but there didn’t seem to be any writing clubs, at least not for kids. From that conversation emerged the idea for a group that Watkins and Hecht dubbed “The Write Sisters: Flights of Fancy and Imagination — A Creative Writing Workshop for Women and Girls Ages 9 to 99.”

On Friday, during Vash-on’s monthly Gallery Cruise, 16 Write Sisters — aged 10 to “70 or so,” as Hecht put it — will share their poems, stories and creative non-fiction at the Vashon Bookshop.

“My goal was to see if I could create an ongoing intergenerational group of women writers,” said Hecht, whose published works include poems and essays. She admits, though, that she wasn’t sure what kind of response she’d get. She brought 12 copies of her handouts to the first session; 23 people showed up.

The group, which has met six times since its formation last fall, is not only intergenerational: The range of writing styles and experience is wide as well. Some are complete beginners; others have master’s degrees in fine arts; their writing includes poetry, fiction and memoirs.

Yet the mix, participants said, seems to have worked well.

“I really loved to see how diverse the women were and how different their writing interests were,” said Kathy Olsen, who is writing a memoir about her childhood in Lebanon. “You reveal so much about yourself through your writing. I just loved it.”

She also enjoyed encouraging the girls.

“I was very impressed by the fact that these young women are so confident and talented,” she said. “Evidently, they’ve never been told they can’t color outside the lines.”

Hecht, who teaches creative writing to children in grades five to 12 through the Seattle Writers in the Schools program and at Bridges: A Center for Grieving Children in Tacoma, agreed. “The charm for me was the astonishment and the appreciation of the older women when the girls read. I understand the hearts and minds and capacities of kids. They have so much candor and immediacy. They do some of their best work at that age.”

During the group’s first session, Hecht created a poem that drew one line from each writer. “There was no way to tell who was 9 or who was 70,” she said. “It was seamless.”

For the girls, the support and encouragement lent “dignity and weight” to their work, said Hecht. As Audrey put it, “It helped me know that I can be a writer.”

For all the women, it seems, a community was created. They’ve even started their own blog. “I could come to a class on a Wednesday evening feeling down-hearted, and I always left energized and inspired,” said Hecht.

For Audrey, the class highlight was the day the women practiced reading their work out loud in preparation for the public reading. “I loved so many of the stories and poems. People should come because there are some amazing writers in this group.”

— Lesley Reed is a freelance writer on Vashon.

The Write Sisters will read original works of poetry, literary non-fiction and memoir at the Vashon Bookshop at 7 p.m. Friday, Feb. 5.

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