“What are you going to wear?” I asked Tavy. The next evening, she would read in the opening evening of Chapters, a public reading series produced by Girls Write Now to showcase the work of their teen authors. Octavia Lowrie and I are in our second year as a mentor-mentee pair. One of the ancillary joys of being Tavy’s mentor is that she has a fabulous sense of style; our over-the-phone pep talk before her big night was bound to incorporate fashion.
“I have black heels that lace up, and red plaid tights and dress with a black sweater,” she said. Beat. “And I’m going to wear my purple hair.”
How could you not love a girl like that?
But fashion isn’t the focus of our relationship, writing is. And the primary joy of working with Tavy is how vibrantly she expresses the impatient, searching energy of a teenager, grappling with her first experiences of death and love and adult responsibilities and dreams and pouring them into her writing with a fearlessness that blows me away. Last year she wrote everything from a broad treatise on teen violence to an intimate essay about her three-year-old cousin dying of leukemia. This year she had her first real love—and her first real breakup. Guess what she wrote about? But she didn’t do it in an ordinary way; instead she wrote a pair of poems designed to be read together. The first explored her feelings of confusion, hurt and loneliness with a simplicity that made it moving instead of maudlin. The second was a completely different take: she was a girl who outplayed the player, whose confidence wasn’t merely unshaken but magnified, who gloried in her own strength. She twisted the kaleidoscope and created a whole new picture from the same set of chips.
There are a lot of things I love about these poems. The description of her pain as “as deep and confusing as a grave,” for instance. Like all great images, it’s startling and precise, relatable and surprising in equal measure.
But my favorite line of all? “I’m no one’s clone.” I love it because it’s awesome and I love it because Tavy's voice is so much stronger than mine was at her age that I’m awestruck and inspired, and I love being both of those things. And most of all I love it because it’s so utterly true of all the teenaged authors of Girls Write Now—every single one of them.
In fact, maybe I’ll have it printed on a t-shirt. I bet it goes perfectly with purple hair.
Julie Polk is a second-year mentor with Girls Write Now. She toured as a performer and teaching artist with the National Shakespeare Company before getting her MFA in creative writing from the New School in 2007. When she’s not copywriting at Siegel+Gale, a branding agency, she’s at work on her first novel—a young adult murder mystery about A Midsummer NIght's Dream, coyotes, a turn-of-the-century art colony, and, of course, hang gliding.