Writing For Freedom: Representation in A White Washed Industry

As many know, publishing is a predominately white industry. According to a Diversity Baseline Survey by Lee & Low Books , Black/Afro-American/Afro-Caribbean individuals only make up 5% of the industry. Not only that, but the book industry overall has had years of issues in regards to representation for People of Color.  I recently sat down with Shannon Murphy, the founder and executive director of Writing For Freedom (WFF), who plans on helping to change that.

Writing For Freedom (WFF) is a non-profit writing program for girls and young women of color based out of Charlotte, North Carolina. Their vision is to increase the number of female authors of color to reclaim, write, and share their own cultural narratives to heal their communities. The organization plans to provide girls and young women with therapeutic writing tools and a platform to heal, create, and share gender- and ethnic- specific narratives. 

Shannon’s urge to create this safe space for young girls and women comes from her own personal experiences as a young Black woman. 

What inspired you to create Writing For Freedom?

When I was younger, there were no free programs for me to go to where I could do this kind of creative writing. The only opportunity I had was the literary club in school. The club was run by an older white woman, and all the participants were young white girls and I felt very out of place. I could never relate to their stories, and my ideas and stories were never understood by them. So when I decided to continue with my own writing journey, I had to do my own research to learn about how to format manuscripts and things like that. I feel like that kind of knowledge should be readily available for girls like me. I also feel like it’s important for all Women of Color to feel like they have a safe space to go where they can be themselves and get mentorship like the kind we offer with WFF.

Image provided by WFF

How did you come up with the name for the program?

Initially, the name was Writing To Freedom because I wanted it to be like participants were going on this journey of writing for themselves to free their minds, but I realized that the acronym was ‘WTF’ so I had to change it. Writing For Freedom (WFF) was an easy change, and I could still connect it to the self-liberation through writing narrative that I wanted to.

What do you think makes Writing For Freedom standout from other organizations?

When you look up other organizations there is usually this focus on literacy or writing and then there are other programs that focus on things like counseling. WFF isn’t just about creative writing, it’s about therapeutic writing, and that is what separates us from other organizations. We want to dive into how members can use their artistic abilities to help heal themselves from trauma, and how they can use their creativity to help heal other girls, as well. We want to create a healing space for sisterhood and help to bring healing to the community through artistry.

Why do you think it’s important to target Women of Color (WOC) specifically?  

After having my initial idea for WFF, I became more aware of just how little representation WOC have in creative spaces. When you think of writing you think of things like books, and things in the media like podcasts and TV series; the people writing the stories about WOC probably aren’t WOC, or women in general. So you don’t get the authentic, genuine story about experiences that WOC have. Accurate representation matters, and representation based on the white gaze can definitely create more insecurity within our communities.

What are your main goals for the program?  

Our goal is to publish more Women of Color and to get their work out there. We also want to help girls and young women set life goals that make them realize that they are capable of doing great things. We want to let participants know that it’s okay for them to dream big and that it really is possible for them to do whatever they set their minds on.

Is the program open to members across the US, or are you solely NC based?

Because WFF is a new program, we’re focused on recruiting members in NC, but we won’t turn away potential partners or participants from other areas. Right now most of our programming will be done virtually, so in that case, it’s cool if people from other places join. Eventually, we’ll do in person programs. 

Writing For Freedom is currently enrolling members and volunteers. For more information, you can get in contact with the Executive Director via email at: writers4freedom@gmail.com, or find info about WFF at any of the click-through links below:

Writing For Freedom Official Website

Writing For Freedom Official Facebook

Writing For Freedom Official Instagram

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