The act of writing can be a form of social justice: writing can be a powerful vehicle for self discovery, personal transformation and, ultimately, social change. Memoir-writing in particular can empower individuals and communities to foster enduring meaning for themselves, a stronger sense of identity, courage for growth and change, and vision to seek and restore balance to individual lives and communities.
To this end, Becoming Writers pairs experienced writing instructors with community organizations to offer free writing workshops and provide ongoing mentoring to new writers representing traditionally under-represented populations. We also provide low cost workshops and support to individuals from all backgrounds that are seeking to articulate traditionally under-heard stories.
Becoming Writers honors the truth that everyone has a story and that all of our stories are equally important. To encourage writers, foster community, and develop a deeper understanding of the human experience, we conduct creative writing workshops and provide ongoing mentoring to new writers wishing to empower themselves and their communities by transforming the truth of our experiences into outstanding literary nonfiction.
Our vision is of a world where people are encouraged to take creative risks and to tell their personal stories without fear of recrimination.
Becoming Writers was founded by Melissa Petro, a creative nonfiction writer who in September 2010, lost her job as an elementary public school teacher after authoring an article on the Huffington Post in criticism of the censoring of the Adult Services section of Craigslist and in defense of the rights and dignity of sex workers. For coming forward about her own history without pseudonym or apology, she was ridiculed in the national press, removed from her position in the classroom and ultimately forced to resign. The message was clear: if you have a history such as hers, and an opinion on sex work that differs from the common view, keep it to yourself. Or else.
Since losing her job she has dedicated herself to promoting the opposite to that message— the message that everyone, particularly people who’ve been historically rendered invisible, have the human right to be seen as well as heard, and that true social change comes about by listening without judgement or condescension to the communities we purportedly seek to help.
Melissa worked with Red Umbrella Project in 2011 to launch Becoming Writers, first as memoir-writing workshops for current, former and transitioning sex workers. The curriculum taught at Red Umbrella was an adaptation of the curriculum Melissa teaches to a general population of writers at Gotham Writers Workshop, a creative writing school in Manhattan. This curriculum ran for 8 weeks, three hours each week, and incorporated mini-lecture, mentor texts and writing exercises with positive, supportive feedback and critique of ongoing projects. The workshop culminated with a public performance and publication of Pros(e), an anthology of writings by individuals with experiences in the sex trades. The program was funded by Poets & Writers Foundation with the support of the Health Services Department at The New School.
Following this experience, Melissa launched an adaptation of the program at Washington Heights CORNER Project, a harm reduction organization in Upper Manhattan. The program began in October 2012 with Ms. Petro volunteering up to 10 hours a week, developing relationships with community members and operating an informal version of the workshop in the drop-in space to test the program’s feasibility with this new population. Round I of the program was funded by the Community Fund of the Lower Manhattan Community Council and ran from March through June 2013, during which the workshop met weekly for around 10 weeks, one hour each session. Round I of the program culminated with a reading and the first publication of CORNER Stories: Writings by the Washington Heights CORNER Project Community.We recently completed Round III of memoir-workshops at CORNER Project and are poised to produce a second publication in Spring 2014. This past round, Melissa was assisted by poet Karen Ladson, who will take over as lead teacher in the spring of 2014 for Round IV, and teach poetry and spoken word.
In partnership with New York Writers Coalition, Melissa continues to bring writing workshops to Girls Education and Mentoring Services (GEMS) since Fall of 2013. Those workshops are taught in the Amherst Writers Workshop model (as adopted by NY Writers Coalition). In addition to these one hour workshops Melissa provides one-on-one mentoring to exceptionally motivated participants. She is currently working with one student 1-2 days a week to produce a novella based on the girls life and experiences as a victim of sexual commercial exploitation. We are also in the process of developing a mentoring program in the design of a pen pal exchange with girls who live and attend high school in Agogo, Ghana.