An audience of 230 budding writers and their loved ones greeted Sonia Manzano with cheers and excited whispers on March 22, welcoming the celebrated Latina actress and 15 Emmy Award-winning screenwriter as the special guest speaker for the opening event of Girls Write Now’s CHAPTERS Reading series. Best-known as “Maria” from the long-running PBS show Sesame Street, Manzano has recently added acclaimed young adult author to her list of many accomplishments: her Revolution of Evelyn Serrano (Scholastic, 2012) garnered a Pura Belpré Honor.
After a clip of Sesame Street “Maria” milestones, the crowd was treated to a reading from Manzano’s historical fiction novel, which is set in1969 Spanish Harlem. The book’s backdrop includes the rising popularity of Young Lords Party—a Puerto Rican activist group. The author shared with the crowd that the title character’s struggles were modeled after the feelings and issues she herself experienced during this tumultuous time.
“The story of Evelyn trying to choose between her more traditional mother and her radical grandmother came from my own self-conscious feelings about being Latin at that time,” Manzano said. “I felt invisible, because I wasn’t being reflected in society.” She went on to give writing advice and words of encouragement and empowerment.
The first of an ongoing reading series, this debut night of CHAPTERS included 18 teen participants, who read their best poems, personal essays, short stories, or excerpts from longer works to a group of teachers, friends, family members, and mentors. The selections ranged in tone, from the poignant subway ride reflection, “Not Just a Stranger” by Mariah Teresa Aviles, to the morbidly funny paranormal romance, “Luca” by Mennen Gordon. Many of the performances were a collaborated effort and featured not only the mentees, but included mentors as well.
Now in its 15th year, Girls Write Now is the first organization in the country with a writing and mentoring model exclusively for girls. It pairs talented, at-risk public high school students with women mentors in all areas of writing professions. It also boasts a 100 percent high school graduation and college attendance rate, and many of these young women have writing honors such as the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards already under the belts. Some of the mentees go on to become published writers, like CHAPTERS emcee and poet Jeanette Anderson, whose work has appeared in The Broome Review and Mslexia.
Sponsored by Open Road Media, and supported by Writers House LLC, Penguin, and Random House Children’s Books, the CHAPTERS series continues with stellar authors like Adele Griffin on April 19, Gayle Forman on May 17, and Marcia Ann Gillespie on June 14. All of the readings will be hosted held Scholastic headquarters and occur from 6pm to 8pm ET.