September 14, 2011

By Gidon Belmaker

NEW YORK
Writopia Lab is located in a home-like office in the Upper West Side, nearly unnoticeable from the outside. Only a few placards in the windows indicate that something special is happening behind the door.

Writopia is a community of young writers, aged 8-18, who learn together to bring out their voices and creativity. Writopia, founded by Rebecca Wallace-Segall in 2007 has since grown to other cities, offering children and teens opportunities to polish and showcase their work?whether it be a poem, a play, a novel or a short story?with the help and guidance of accomplished professionals.

Segall's writing career started in journalism. For 10 years she reported for The Village Voice. After leaving the newspaper she began teaching creative writing in public and private schools in the city. A private school then hired her to develop a creative writing program. But a change in management brought about a dispute over the necessity of the classes, driving Segall to found Writopia.

The Epoch Times: Looking at what you have accomplished over the past years, how do you feel about the work you are doing?

Rebecca Wallace-Segall: I feel like the luckiest person in New York City. I either get to work with the most creative, engaged kids, who are so happy to be here?everyone is happy here?or I get to work with kids who are struggling, that their parents sent them here, and we get to watch them change and grow.

Epoch Times: Are there any common themes in the kids' work? Maybe themes inspired by the city or other things?

Segall: Very dark. I don't know if that is just adolescent in general [or something unique to New York City]. We are talking about middle school and high school; everyone dies [in their work]. I read this one amazing play a kid submitted to a competition that we ran. No one died. It was this beautiful father-son relationship?really subtle. At first they were disconnected, by the end they were connected or understood each other. I asked: ?What inspired this beautiful play?? He answered: ?My father died.?

It was interesting to me that our kids here, who have not experienced this pain, are imagining the pain, doing it in a crude way. They are exploring it. The kid who really experienced it did this wonderful, subtle play.

They are excited to come to a place they can be dark. In school if you write a dark theme you are sent to the guidance councilor. We do not censor at all. We process, we talk, but we do not censor.

Epoch Times: How have you changed since you founded Writopia?

Segall: It is hard to be meta on my own life. ... I did not have enough therapy in the last few years to answer that. My life changed. Everything in my life changed so it is hard to answer. I got married a few months after we launched Writopia. My whole life has change: we got married. I had kids.

At this point, Segall shouts to husband for help: ?How did I change since Writopia??

?You became a more confident public speaker,? he replies.

As a journalist, it was the worse thing in the world if I was asked to talk on the radio for example. Real panic responses. Part of the problem was that I never really felt like an expert. Now I speak once a month at least. I speak regularly and I love it.

Just having to be a role model for kids ... that is the real answer to your question. I moved from being an adult that is really a child?running around NYC having a great time?not really responsible for anyone or anything, now I have all these eyes on me of these amazing young people. Now I have the responsibility to them to be strong, to be weak, to be honest.

Public speaking is a huge thing, but it is part of all of that.


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Writopia Lab fosters joy, literacy, and critical thinking in children and teens from all backgrounds through creative writing.

We have never turned away a student whose family was unable to pay for workshops. Fifty percent of our students attend on either partial or full scholarships.

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