Teacher Feature: Jennifer Shields


As summer camps have begun, we’ve decided to highlight one of our fabulous instructors each week, giving you a glimpse into who they are and why they LOVE teaching writing. The seventh is Jennifer Shields, who co-teaches Girls Write Now.

1. What is your favorite underappreciated novel? How can writing help benefit your well being?

Your question reminded me of a book that speaks to girls and their quest for identity during the thorny adolescent years, written by the wild and willowy haired Margaret Atwood, called Cat’s Eye. Some of you may be familiar with her novel The Handmaid’s Tale, which has become a television series. Atwood is masterful in her characterization of young adolescent girls struggling with friendship hierarchy–who is in, who is out. The girls are at times ruthless to the point of leaving one girl for dead, almost freezing to death in the bottom of an ice-laden ravine. The novel weaves past and present narratives of the protagonist, Elaine Risley, exploring the lasting impact tumultuous friendships can have on the formation of the adult self.

2. Why is it important to teach girls to find their voices through writing?

It is important because it enables them to reflect in a deeper and more grounded way. Verbal expression is not always accessible to a young person in the moment; it takes years of practice. But with writing, we can teach them to revisit situations that may have been painful or challenging or joyous and write about them through different lenses–taking on the perspective of the other, writing about a situation and changing the outcome, looking back 10 years from now. But the importance, the true growth from the writing, is in the sharing. Speaking one’s true voice is an exercise young girls can carry with them throughout life.

3. How can writing benefit your well being?

Writing can be the great equalizer, especially when the written word is shared and discussed in a safe, supportive environment–away from instagram, away from snapchat, away from the pings and concomitant trigger of anxious rush. Girls Write Now is like a sleepover party for the real self. The real self gets to hang out, stay up late, and share stories of fear and wonder, hopes and dreams, darkness and light, uncensored and maybe even told for the first time. But that story is so like yours, and yours, and yours … and mine.

Be sure to check out our camp list and register at www.projectwritenow.org/summer-camps.

Jennifer Shields is a Writing Instructor & Counselor for Project Write Now.