2024 News and Announcements

Welcome to the 2024 Annual Newsletter. First, congratulations to the thousands of Writopia writers, from young and teen writers to instructors and full-time staff, who set out and completed the writing of original pieces this year! A few hundred members of our community also bravely submitted writing to the 2024 Scholastic Awards and to other rigorous platforms, publications, and publishing houses. 

We are thrilled to share some of their exciting news below. (Below, “medals” are national awards, “keys” are regional awards.)

Writopia Writers News

Awards & Publications

  • Adiyah Parham—We are thrilled to share and congratulate Adiyah Parham for winning the most prestigious writing award for teens in the nation, The Scholastic Awards’ Gold Medal for her Writing Portfolio. Of the thousands of writing portfolios submitted from across the country, only seven seniors win this prestigious $12,500 scholarship award. Adiyah has taken part in Writopia’s selective Creative Portfolio program for three years, and won a production in Writopia’s 2022 Worldwide Plays festival in New York City! Adiyah, we are so proud of your dedication to your craft and for the talent you have elevated with grace, wisdom, and passion.
  • Tara Prakash—became Maryland’s First State Youth Poet Laureate and won eight Scholastic gold keys, seven silver keys, and eleven honorable mentions for poetry, personal essay, critical essay, flash fiction, and short story. Other awards she received: 2024 Montgomery County Youth Poet Laureate; National YoungArts Awards in Creative Nonfiction; Leonard L. Milberg ’53 High School Poetry Prize; DePaul’s Blue Book Best American High School Writing. She was also published in Blue Marble Review. Congratulations on all!
  • Dina Lusztig Noyes—who has been selected to participate in Writopia’s Advanced Writing Seminar (AWS) at the New School and this summer at Pratt became Santa Cruz’s First Youth Poet Laureate! We are so proud of your dedication, passion, community engagement, and talent!
  • Maria Rojas—was awarded a Gold and Silver Key from the Scholastic Awards and selected as a student speaker to present at the Gold Key Award Ceremony in New York City. She was also published in The Literary Kaleidoscope, her school’s literary magazine, and served as the co-creative designer and editor of her school’s literary publication. Congratulations on an amazing year!
Maria Rojas speaking at the Scholastic Awards Ceremony.     

“Every Monday night, Maria comes with a smile from her workshop. She has built a fantastic community at Writopia Lab and made friends with her classmates and instructor. She has had the chance to submit her writing to multiple places, learning the lesson of what rejection feels like as well as acceptance. She won a Gold and Silver key at the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, and she thanks her instructor Amy because she supported her with the submission process. Amy also supported her as she wrote and memorized a speech to give at the ceremony. Maria now wishes to minor in poetry in her college career.  So, thank you all for allowing so many teens to have the chance to create their fondness for writing. Maria would never have known this side of herself without the support of Writopia Lab!” – Vilma, Maria’s mom 

  • Cora Anderson’s piece “First Snow of the Year” was published in The New York Times as a winner of the Teen Tiny Memoirs Contest. Her piece “California” was published in Rust & Moth.
  • Emi Shapiro was a finalist for The New York Times’ Teen Tiny Memoirs Contest.
  • Sonali Browning was featured as a rising poet in the online newspaper The Mamaroneck Observer; two silver keys and one honorable mention in poetry; and also won first place in the Lifting Up Westchester Essay Contest and received $500. Sonali also had a poem featured in the Floodwaters Documentary created by Westchester’s poet laureate BK Fischer, and three poems accepted for publication in Creative Communications, and her poems and stories were selected for publication in two Writopia publications: Turning the Page anthology and Frightopia.  
  • Shreya Ganguly won a Scholastic Gold Key for her senior writing portfolio. Her poem “We Sit Close” was published in Parallax, and other works have been published in Interlochen Review and is forthcoming in GSU’s Anthology of Outstanding High School Writing, Fledge and Writopia’s social justice anthology Turning the Page, We, the Treasured.
(From left to right) Sonali Browning, Aravah Chaiken, James Plummer, and Shreya Ganguly on the train to DC for the Creative Portfolio Retreat!
  • Ava Barcelona won a Scholastic Gold Medal for “ISANG BANSA, DALAWANG DIWA (ONE NATION, TWO SPIRITS).”
  • Nicola Bailey won a Scholastic Silver Medal for “Boxes.”
  • James Blenko won a Scholastic Gold Medal for “The Foreigner.”
  • Wyatt Foster won a Scholastic Gold Medal in Critical Essay for his nuclear semiotics project.
  • Gabe Horowitz won a Scholastic Silver Medal for “Porcine Psychopathy: Peppa Pig’s Mosaic of Evil.”
  • Yoonsuh Kim won a Scholastic Gold Medal for “Pigeon Clouds” and a Silver Medal for “Letters to my Mother.”
  • Olivia Romano won a Scholastic Gold Medal for “Capirotada Recipe” and a Silver Medal for “Car Radio.”
  • Twyla Shand won a Scholastic Silver Medal for “Empty-Handed.”
  • Ruby Sinder won a Scholastic Silver Medal for “Always”; two Scholastic gold keys, one silver key, and two honorable mentions for her poetry; and was published in Millennium High School’s lit mag.
  • Annabel Zhou won a Scholastic Gold Medal for “Miracles.”
  • Hollyn Alpert’s poem “Gold to Gray,” won the Society of Young Inklings book contest and will be published in an anthology; and won a gold key in the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards.
  • Carmen Ashworth won a Scholastic silver key for her science fiction and fantasy piece.
  • Zoe Becker won a Scholastic gold key for her personal essay and two honorable mentions for her short story and flash fiction piece.
  • Claire Breslow won a Scholastic silver key in short story and three honorable mentions in poetry, flash fiction, and novel writing.
  • Olivia Brown’s poetry was recognized in a school poetry contest.
  • Isabella Cai won a Scholastic silver key in poetry and personal essay, as well as an honorable mention for humor.
  • Dakota Cameron won three Scholastic honorable mentions for flash fiction, short story, and personal essay and memoir.
  • Aravah Chaiken won a Scholastic gold key for critical essay, two silver keys for short story, and one honorable mention for science fiction and fantasy.
  • Alexis Chase: The prologue to a novella in progress was published in Alexis’ school’s literary magazine, the Eidolon, and in the newsletter of the Washington Writers’ Publishing House.
  • Nell Choi won a Scholastic gold key for personal essay and an honorable mention for flash fiction. Nell is a published author, an artist, and an activist. Check her out here.
  • Blake Feinstein won a Scholastic silver key in humor and an honorable mention in personal essay and memoir.
  • Michaela Frey won three honorable mentions from the Scholastic Awards for Poetry; and had four of her poems and stories accepted and published in Teen Ink.
  • Devra Goldhaber won a Scholastic silver key for flash fiction, as well as a silver key and two honorable mentions for poetry.
  • Ananya Govind won a Scholastic honorable mention for her short story.
  • Sanja Greenawalt won a Scholastic gold key in critical essay and novel writing, as well as a silver key in personal essay and memoir.
  • Stephanie Groves won an honorable mention for her Scholastic writing portfolio.
  • Thuy Holder-Vinh received an Honorable Mention from the Brooklyn Public Library’s 2024 Teen Writing Contest & Ned Vizzini Prize for her short story, “Wonderland.” [Story available at BPL branches this summer.] 
  • Joanne Hwang’s op-ed “Reimagining Writing at Stuyvesant” was published in The Spectator.
  • Naomi Jeske won one Scholastic gold key, three silver keys, and four honorable mentions for poetry.
  • Lea Karian won a Scholastic silver key for her writing portfolio; a silver key in personal essay and memoir; and one gold key, one silver key and five honorable mentions for poetry.
  • Samantha Katz won a Scholastic silver key for short story and an honorable mention for novel writing. 
  • Katie Kim won a Scholastic gold key in short story, a gold key and honorable mention in science fiction, a silver key and honorable mention in poetry, and an honorable mention in novel writing.
  • Zack Lam won two Scholastic silver keys and an honorable mention for his poetry and critical essay.
  • Emma Laurence won a Scholastic silver key in poetry.
  • Chloe Lee won a Scholastic gold key, a silver key, and three honorable mentions for poetry.
  • Koi Lerner’s poem “Slaughter” was published in Teen Ink.
  • Henry Lomma’s short story “Trish” was published in Blue Marble Review; “Count George” published in the Frightopia anthology.
  • Nick Marino won a Scholastic gold key and honorable mention in science fiction and fantasy, a silver key and honorable mention in dramatic script, and two honorable mentions in flash fiction.
  • Oona McPhearson won a Scholastic gold key and silver key for short story.
  • Andrew Nam won a Scholastic gold key for critical essay.
  • Izzy Oh won two Scholastic silver keys and an honorable mention for her poetry, flash fiction, and critical essay; and won second place in the Mary Ann Hutchinson Memorial Youth Story Contest.
  • Viraaj Raofield won three Scholastic honorable mentions for novel writing and poetry.
  • Nina Rogers won a 2024 Honorable Mention from the Scholastic Writing Awards for her short story Pete & Madeline.
  • Annalise Ross won a Scholastic silver key in personal essay and memoir as well as dramatic script.
  • Zahra Sadoughi won a Scholastic gold key and American Voices Nomination for her poetry and a silver key for her personal essay and memoir.
  • Hana Sakr won three Scholastic silver keys for poetry.
  • Fenley Scurlock won a Scholastic gold key and honorable mention for humor and science fiction & fantasy.
  • Emi Shapiro won two Scholastic silver keys for her short story and personal essay, as well as an honorable mention for critical essay.
  • Divya Sharma won a Scholastic silver and honorable mention in critical essay.
  • Emily Shull won a silver key for flash fiction and two honorable mentions for critical essay.
  • Avantika Singh won a Scholastic silver key in critical essay.
  • Lucy Steward won two Scholastic silver keys and an honorable mention for critical essay as well as a silver key and honorable mention for poetry.
  • Alexandra Steyn won three Scholastic silver keys for critical essay, a silver key for short story, a silver key and honorable mention for flash fiction, and an honorable mention for personal essay and memoir.
  • Hugh Vickery won a Scholastic gold key for his poetry.
  • Jo Wallace-Segall has two pieces of literary fiction, “There,” and “Coconut Juice” to be published in the forthcoming issue of The Center School’s literary magazine.
  • Maxanne Wallace-Segall won one Scholastic gold key and one honorable mention for journalism and one gold key for her fiction. Her opinion pieces, “Are You Ok?: Muslim & Jewish Connection,” “Peace is Possible,” and “How to Celebrate Passover During a War,”  were published in The Spectator.
  • Lilia Werve won an honorable mention from the 2024 Scholastic Awards for her poetry (and a Gold Medal last year!)
  • Nirali Yedendra was published in Stone Soup twice for the pieces “My Liberating Brain” and “You Own It“.
  • Jonathan Zhang’s essay, “The Woman on the New Quarter”, received a Scholastic Honorable Mention Award.
  • And congratulations to the following teens on completing their first year of our selective Creative Portfolio program!
    • Mariela Alschuler, Henry Arroyo, Sahara Asher, Advika Asthana, Mason Avery, Lilah Baez, Nicola Bailey, Julia Barney, Owen Berland, Sonali Browning, Ian Burch, Isabella Cai, Megan Chan, Emily Charlton, Mahnaz Daud-Basrai, Sydney Davis, Michaela Frey, Shreya Ganguly, Maya Graff, Miriam Hale, Thuy Holder-Vinh, Sara Horowitz, Madelyn Hsieh, Emma Knisbacher, Avni Krishna, Maxwell Lally, Annika Lamberti, Joshua Lancman, Evie Lee, Serine Lee, Hunter Maguire, Edy Meyers, Brendan Moran, Netta Nov, Linda Palmer, Harper Ragle, Viraaj Raofield, Zahra Sadoughi, Lili Sella, Cate Shanahan, Aashvi Singh, Alexandra Steyn, Ryan Tang, Yanic Valbrune, Maxanne Wallace-Segall, & Celeste Wilbur
    • Shout out to the dedicated Eva Djordjevic for completing her second year of Creative Portfolio while Zooming in from Spain!

College Bound!

Congratulations to our seniors for completing an incredible four years of school and Writopia! Shout out to Léna Roy, our Director of Teen Programs, for spearheading the fabulous Creative Portfolio program, publications, and trips! And a special shout out to our Creative Portfolio and WriCampia seniors who have dedicated hours of writing, interning, editing, organizing, and traveling with us over the years:

  • Eliot Ageura y Arcas
  • Sahara Asher
  • Allie B.
  • Isabella Cai
  • Kayla Caruso
  • Alexis Chase
  • Ella Davis
  • Paloma Divina
  • Freda Dong
  • Josh Lancman
  • Jamie Landeau 
  • Charlotte Lipman
  • Lea Karian
  • Nour Mokbel
  • Indira Moshi
  • Roxie Nelson
  • Givi Fleuristal-Muheto
  • Shreya Ganguly
  • Sanja Greenawalt
  • Stephanie Groves 
  • Jonah Gulisano
  • Camil Piperni
  • James Plummer
  • Eli Prager
  • Soap Robinson
  • Annalise Ross
  • Franny Shaloum
  • Ruby Sinder
  • Ricky Smith
  • Julia Volpp
  • Emma Wasserman 
  • Celeste Wilbur
  • Bernice Zhao

We have loved EVERY second of supporting your creative writing and college essay writing processes. So far, our college essay writers have shared with us that they will be freshmen at the following amazing institutions in the fall: 

  • Berkeley
  • Boston College
  • Bucknell, Arts Merit Scholarship in Creative Writing
  • Chapman (Screenwriting)
  • George Washington University (Honors Program)
  • Hampshire
  • McGill
  • Muhlenberg
  • Northwestern
  • NYU Tisch Dramatic Script
  • Pace
  • Pomona
  • Princeton
  • Smith
  • Stanford
  • SUNY Oneonta
  • SUNY Purchase
  • Tufts
  • University of Chicago
  • University of Toronto
  • Vanderbilt University (Posse Scholar)
  • Vassar
  • Yale

Each year since 2020, we have published an increasing number of books including works from our own programs (at our labs and schools) in addition to the works of students from Title 1 schools that come to us to provide publication as a service to their schools. Shout out to Will Bond who makes publication possible for hundreds of students each year! 

  • Connecting Across Cultures
    • Featuring selected Jewish and Muslim teen writers: Zoe Becker, Dania Bressler, Leila Cisse, Mahnaz Daud-Basrai, Heba Elkouraichi, Zara Hai, Ilana Horwitz, Leonid Metlitsky, Millie Nathanson, & Anniyah Rizvi.
  • “Loved Your Essay” Second Edition
    • Featuring nine new college essays by Writopia alumni: Eli Berliner, Daniela Brillon, Ella Davis, Sophia Hall, Eliana Herzog, Ailynn O’Neill, Camil Piperni, Eli Prager, & Sophia Rubin.
  • Frightopia
    • Celebrating the writing of 76 selected Writopia writers.
    • Full list of contributors here!
  • A Wish Upon a Snowflake (forthcoming)
    • Celebrating the writing of 28 Writopia writers.
    • Full list of contributors here!
  • The Dreams of Immigrants
    • Partnership with International Community High School.
  • Mi Llegada A Los Estados Unidos / My Arrival in the United States
    • Partnership with International Community High School.
  • Wonders of the Wild: A WriCampia Anthology
    • Full list of contributors here!
  • Finding Writopia: Where Craft Meets Joy (forthcoming)
    • by Rebecca Wallace-Segall, Léna Roy, Yael Schick, and Danielle Sheeler, with guest contributors Elsa Bermudez, Rita Feinstein, Tasnim Hussain, Matthew Jellison, and Janelle Williams, and a Foreword by Writopia Board of Directors Member, Kevin R Free and Founder of Writopia’s Worldwide Plays Festival, Dan Kitrosser.
  • We, the Treasured (forthcoming Turning the Page Anthology)
    • Editors in Chief
      • Lea Karian, Eli Prager, & Emma Wasserman
    • Committee/ Editors
      • Nola Brooks, Sonali Browning, Nell Choi, Shreya Ganguly, Emi Shapiro, & Bernice Zhao
    • Contributors to Anthology
      • Jude Al-Mufti, Nola Brooks, Sonali Browning, Nell Choi, Edith Domanski, Shreya Ganguly, Naomi Jeske, Lea Karian, Vainavi Kumar, Eli Prager, Viraaj Raofield, Emily Rousakis, Tessa Sagner, Cordelia Scoville, Ruby Seidner, Sofia Sherer, Emma Wasserman, & Bernice Zhao

Instructor News


  • Rafaela Bassili was published in The New York Times MagazineThe AtlanticVultureNotebook MUBIand Cleveland Review of Books.
  • Elsa Bermúdez had “Two short comics and art published in Brown Sugar Lit (Shanille’s magazine!); comics “The Sky is Bluer” and “Gum” published in Issue #8 The Eleventh Hour; illustrations “My Tongue is My Crown,” “Speaking (in Tongues),” “Fable,” and “From a Distance” published in Issue #9 Magic Hour. 
  • Ivory Butler’s YA murder mystery, Unreliable, is now being submitted to publishers.
  • Jordan Casomar’s book How to Lose a Best Friend is forthcoming from MTV Books in September.
  • Amy Dupcak is now Editor-in-Chief of the literary journal Cagibi. She read her prose at the Apartment Party performance series and at the long-running bi-monthly series Lyrics, Lit & Liquor (for which she writes original themed trivia).
  • Niki Fakhoori is the author of ”A Dream Of Your Own: The Formulas of Unova” published on PokeCommunity Daily.
  • Rita Feinstein is the author of the new novel Meet Me in the Fourth Dimension, published by Page Street.
  • Camryn Garrett’s 4th book, her debut middle-grade novel called The Forgotten Summer of Seneca, will be published by Abrams in 2025.
  • Sophia N. Lee published her books, “Holding On” and “Lolo’s Sari-sari Store”. “Holding On” received the following honors: Yellowhammer Picture Book Award (Top 10) Given by the Alabama School Library Association (2023-2024); Read Aloud Indiana Award Winner (Ageless Category ) Given by the Indiana Library Federation (2023). “Lolo’s Sari-sari Store” was chosen as: a Best Picture Book of 2023 by the School Library Journal; a Notable Children’s Social Studies Book by the Children’s Book Council (2023); a Bank Street Best Picture Book of 2023 by the Bank Street Library; an Award Winner by the Rhode Island Children’s Book Award.
  • Matthew Jellison wrote this beautiful piece about three of our amazing instructors and their moms — all of whom are retired reading and writing teachers! (See the video below from the Hard Skills training that their mothers spoke at!)
  • Kendra Jones has been contributing reviews for The Front Row Center.
  • Sam Schnell’s poetry was published in Sonora ReviewThe Argyle Literary MagazineAtlanta Review, and Bicoastal Review.
  • Carly Sorenson’s “Butch Drag Tango: The Life and Lyrics of Azucena Maizani,” a historical deep dive into a cross-dressing singer from the Golden Age of Tango, broadcast by Montez Press Radio on May 25th, 2024. Textile art titled “Watch Me” on display at the Roosevelt Island Visual Art Association Gallery as part of their Safe Space exhibit for Pride from May 30th – June 23rd, 2024. Poetry and dance performance titled “Safe Space” at the Roosevelt Island Visual Art Association Gallery on June 9. Carly will be reading from her work (including a short story called “Peel” and the artist’s statement for her textile art “Watch Me”) while dancers perform choreography inspired by her writing.
  • Paulina Tesnow graduated from Sarah Lawrence in May with an MFA in Creative Nonfiction.
  • Bianca Turetsky published three personal essays with TODAY.com.
  • Noah Wilson: “The Old Kind of Memory,” short story (Orca – Issue #16, June 2024); “The Mind Like Water,” flash fiction (Chautauqua: Rooted and Growing – Issue #21, January 2024); “One Hundred Characters at an Amusement Park” short story (Third Street Review – Issue #2, June 2023);  “Solo Piano Vol. 1” EP (All music streaming platforms, May 2024); “Hold Out Thirst 2” single (All music streaming platforms, May 2024).
  • Jane Young’s Short story “Vehicle,” upcoming in Rock and a Hard Place, Issue #13.
An instructor training featuring three Writopia staff moms!

Theater Productions

  • Lizz Mangan: “And the Lights of the Borealis Were Shining” at The Tank (February 2023); “Eyes and Teeth” at American Stage Theatre Company (October 2023), “Icarus and Amelia Earhart Had Tea This Morning” at Hobart and William Smith Colleges (April 2024); Finalist – INKubator, Arthouse Productions. Summer 2024 Playwriting Resident with First Kiss Theatre;
    Tennessee Williams Scholar at the Sewanee Writers Conference.
  • Amalia Oliva Rojas’s play In the Bronx Brown Girls Can See Stars Too was performed at Columbia University at the Schapiro Theatre and wrote her first adaptation titled Are you going to find your way out Uncle Vanya? performed at Columbia University at the Studio Theatre. She also had her playwriting international debut with It’s Not So Bad In My Brain as part of the Festival Alternativo de Teatro in Bogota, Colombia this past March. Finally, this month, she was awarded the Lydia Mendoza Graduate Fellowship on behalf of CFE International and The CUNY Institute of Mexican Studies!
  • Cassandra Rose’s play “Skyflint” was produced as part of Director’s Haven 7 at Haven Chicago; staged reading of “Billy to His Friends” was produced by Celebration Theatre.
  • Sam Stone’s play Finding Olive, was produced by the SheNYC Festival 2023, at The Connelly Theatre. Script to be licensed by SheNYC for regional productions nationwide.
  • Susan Yassky is a Seven Devils Playwriting Conference semi-finalist.

Creative Writing Youth Development Leadership

Watch Tasnim’s PASEsetters speech!
  • Awards—Tasnim Hussain, 2024 PASEsetters Award Winner.
    • In February, over 500 guests joined the Partnership for After School Education for their 2024 PASEsetter Awards Benefit, celebrating five NYC outstanding youth development educators, including the one and only Tasnim Hussain!
  • Conferences — National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE)
    • In the fall of 2023, Yael Schick, Matthew Jellison, and Malcolm Knowles attended the NCTE annual conference and presented a panel at the Conference of English Leadership called “Writing Workshops as the Gateway to Empathy, Critical Thinking, and Transformation”.
    • In 2024, Writopia will be running two panels at the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE):
      • Connecting Across Cultures: Jewish and Muslim Teens Share Their Stories During the Israel-Hamas War: the panel produced and led by Rebecca Wallace-Segall, Tasnim Hussain, Yael Schick, and CAC teens, Anniyah Rizvi and Lenny Metlitsky.
      • The Work of Play in the Classroom: Open-Ended Student-Centered Prompts and Games to Transform Your Writing Classroom.
  • Professional Development: Marrying Joy & Rigor in New Innovative Trainings
    • This year Matthew Jellison designed and ran our most intensive
      “Hard Skills Week,” including a special forum with some incredible staff moms! Click here for more info.

Events News

Worldwide Plays Festival 2024

Congratulations to all of the selected teen Festival Fellows who worked and wrote so beautifully with their partner young playwrights:

  • Teen Festival Fellows:
    • Isadora Ardizzoni, Masua Chaiken, Megan Chan, Julia Cramer, Stephanie Groves, Rena Jalon, Naomi Jeske, Bee Kanofsky, Annie Singh, & Bernice Zhao
  • Young Co-Playwrights:
    • Parker Allen, Lily Boegli, Charlotte Caplan, Kian Campwala,  Emma Chabrowski, Avery Choi, Carla Citerman, Lola Greenman, Mirabelle Hoffman, Jiann Hong, Frida Meyer-Ebrecht, Samara Rotenberg, Aurelia Tahan, Clio Taylor, Orli Umlauf, & Lila Yu

Scholastic Awards Ceremonies in Westchester and DC

Congratulations to Peter Quinn-Jacobs, Michaela Florio, Léna Roy, and all of our amazing support staff, for spearheading the production of the DC and Westchester Scholastic Awards Ceremonies!

Essay Writing Conferences / Online and in DC

Congratulations to all the selected youth presenters (below) and to Elsa Bermúdez, Rita Feinstein, Michaela Florio, Tasnim Hussain, and Matthew Jellison for running another beautiful year of essay writing celebration.

  • Isaac Abraham, Laurel Aronian, Chloe Bryant, David Cao, Vicky Chen, Catherine Fenlon, Daniel Freidland, Shrishti Ghosh, Allison Kim, Sophie Kim, David Lee, Noelle Lee, Caleigh McAteer, Jackie McVorran, Grace Molla, Sinead Molony, Alisa Montrose, Kate Quach, Aureliano Ruiz-Halpert, Cordelia Scoville, Nirupama Shivakumar, James Song, Abigail Sterner, Devan Tatlow, Laurentia Woo, Anthony Xu, Edwin Yoo, Johnathan Zhang, & Bernice Zhao

Writopia International Debate Tournaments

Congratulations to Shanille Martin who has been spearheading this super exciting, competitive Wrtiopia program.

From the June 8th, 2024 tournament:

  • Two Writopia teams placed in the top teams with 2 wins out of their 3 rounds:
    • Team Witty Wizards: Peyton Yaffee, Nirali Ydenra, Carter Wang, and Michelle Batson-Greenberg. 
    • Team PEIPINVAL: Peichi Che, Pinwei Che, and Valentina Mafaro.
  • Four Writopians placed in the top 10 speakers with the highest scores:
    • Peichi Che, Pinewi Che, Valentina Mafaro, and Nirali Ydendra. 

From the January 27th, 2024 tournament:

  • Top speakers from Writopia:
    • Nirali Ydendra
    • Samrajya Singh
    • Diana Davidson
    • Esther Motia
    • Manya Guatam

Reading at New York Society for Ethical Culture

Open Mic Series at P&T Knitwear

Organizational News

We launched our first parent portal and we hope you love it! Shoutout to our brilliant operations team that dedicated a year to designing and coding: Jeremy Wallace-Segall, Peter Quinn-Jacobs, Rob Roy, and Rachel Aronson!


WriCampia moved to Camp Danbee in 2023 and we love it there!

Thank you Supergoop for sponsoring two 2024 WriCampia scholarships along with extra sunscreen for the entire camp! 

“It is the only sunscreen I use, I’m not kidding. This is great!” —Tasnim Hussain

Thank you Amy Smith and the Allan S. Gordon Foundation for your generous donations as well. We would not be able to bring all of our writers to camp without you all!

East Coast and West Coast Retreats

Elsa Bermudez and Michaela Florio launched Writopia’s first West Coast Winter Retreat!

2023-2024 Partnerships

Thanks to The Pinkerton Foundation, we had another amazing year working with the wonderful writers at Goddard Riverside sites and Homes for the Homeless, and providing about 50 writers on full scholarship for workshops and private sessions at our Manhattan and Brooklyn locations. In addition, we were able to run super fun workshops for youth development staff at both organizational sites!  In addition, we loved running admissions writing programs through the year at schools funded by the NYCDOE Chancellor’s Office and with many more partner schools and CBOS. 

We are especially excited to welcome three new partnership programs this past spring and this coming summer:

  • Bronx Excellence
    • Shoutout to founder and CEO Charlene Floyd for supporting her school families with an amazing new program for PARENTS run by Writopia’s brilliant and deeply caring Malcolm Knowles who helped 20 Bronx Excellence parents reflect and write beautiful parent application essays for private school high school admissions!
  • Amsterdam Houses at the NY Society for Ethical Culture
    • Thanks to Writopia grandmother Marlene Williamson at Ethical Culture, our 2023 gala donors, and the Pinkerton Foundation, we were able to run a free workshop last summer at Ethical for children from Amsterdam Public Houses.
  • SEO Scholars Program
    • Shoutout to Randy M. Frazer, Associate Director of Programs & Student Success at SEO Scholars Program, for seeking early college essay support for the nearly 200 rising juniors their program will support this summer. We’re excited to familiarize these students with personal essay writing in order to prepare them to write college essays in the upcoming years.

New Writopia 2023-2024 Programs

  • Connecting Across Cultures
    • Ten teen writers — five Jewish and five Muslim — from across the US were selected from a pool of dozens of high level applicants to take part in a free six week writing and sharing program. The next round is partially funded by The Pinkerton Foundation. 
  • BOOKed for the Summer
    • Most of us are witnessing a decline in reading among youth. But in a 2024 parent survey, almost half of our families reported that their children became more engaged in reading as a result of their growing connection to the writing process. So we became inspired to create a fun community-driven workshop for both reading and writing to have the most impact! 
  • Sports Writing
    • Writopia is a safe space for a diverse range of writers and young people. We are so happy to finally honor, beginning this summer, our sports lovers with a workshop where they can dig into their passion for the game through a writer’s lens.

New Titles

Part of the joy of working at Writopia is the ongoing opportunity to learn and grow from our writers and from each other, and the ability to channel and elevate our new insights into our work. Please help us congratulate our staff for another incredible year, including those who have earned new titles:

  • Rebecca Wallace-Segall is now Chief Executive Officer.
  • Yael Schick is now Executive Director.
  • Matthew Jellison is now Associate Director of Education.
  • Elsa Bermúdez is now Associate Director of Specialty Programs and Brooklyn Regional Manager (Interim).
  • Michaela Florio is now Regional Manager, The Bay Area.
  • Alex Minier is now Office Manager and Accounting Specialist .
  • Shanille Martin is now Program Manager.
  • Jem Werner is now Registration and Overnight Programs Coordinator.
  • Carly Sorenson is now Registration Coordinator.
  • Bianca Turetsky, Associate Director of Programs and Brooklyn Regional Manager, will be taking a one-year leave to pursue her Masters in Education Leadership, Organizations, and Entrepreneurship at the Harvard School of Education. We are so excited to learn from her upon her return in June 2025!

Board of Directors News

  • Each year, our Board of Directors meets quarterly to review financials and address Writopia Lab’s overall organizational needs. This super smart, dedicated, and skilled group of individuals brings publishing, education, theater arts, fundraising, compliance, legal, and leadership expertise to us on an ongoing basis. We are so grateful to them! We are especially are excited to welcome three new members:
    • Warren Hrung, Chair, Audit Committee
    • John Plummer, Member, Fundraising Committee
    • Amy Smith, Member, Executive Committee

Alumni Spotlight 

Alumni Education Spotlights 

  • Congratulations Mrinalini Sisodia Wadhwar, Columbia College ’24, Salutatorian, and Writopia’s first alumna that we know of to become a Rhodes Scholar! Her history thesis also won departmental honors as well as the Albert Marion Elsberg Prize.
  • Congratulations Maya Mitrasinovic, who also just graduated from Columbia University, after serving as the City News Editor at the University newspaper, The Spectator. What’s next? Congratulations on winning a Fulbright grant to study in Cyprus!
  • Congratulations to Jessica Zhao, who had run and contributed political pieces and features to our WriCampia newspaper for years, and who just graduated from George Washington University! She is currently looking for a position on Capitol Hill and we recommend her with the highest praise to anyone looking for a hard-working, super dedicated, and smart staffer!
  • Congratulations Sophie Nelson, who just graduated from Oberlin, recently co-authored a philosophy paper, now forthcoming in the Journal of Consciousness Studies.

Alumni Career Spotlights 

  • Follow Emma Goldberg and Nico Grant at The New York Times for brilliant features on business and technology, Sam Levine who writes on politics for The Guardian, and Sneha Day, who is an education reporter for the Texas Tribune! We are also excited to share that poet Nora Miller is editor-in-chief of a journal and small press called Ghost ProposalMaxine Charles is a book editor at Flatiron Books (Macmillan Big 5 publishing), and Hannah Reale is serving as Associate Digital Editor for GBH, Boston’s chapter of NPR.
  • And our biggest alumni shoutouts of all go to the creative writing youth development experts in our midst: the amazing Jem WernerCarly SorensonZoe DonovanEunju Namkung, and  Lil Gellman who bring creative writing inspiration and organizational leadership to our workshops and camps throughout the year! 

Special thank you to Matthew Jellison and Literary Submissions Intern Naomi Jeske for researching and curating our monthly submissions opportunities newsletter! Each year, dozens of our students and staff have the added thrill of winning recognition for their dedication and fine skill through these outlets.

Do you have any exciting awards or publication news to share that we didn’t know about?  Fill out this form and we will include it here.

Writopia Publishing Lab Contributors 20233-2024

Congratulations to all Writopia writers selected for publication this past school year in this year’s Writopia Publishing Lab’s books.

Connecting Across Cultures: A Collection of Writing by Ten Jewish and Muslim American Teens

  • Zoe Becker
  • Dania Bressler
  • Leila Cisse
  • Mahnaz Daud-Basrai
  • Heba Elkouraichi
  • Zara Hai
  • Ilana Horwitz
  • Leonid Metlitsky
  • Millie Nathanson
  • Anniyah Rizvi

“Loved Your Essay!” – The Admissions Team: The Most Fiercely Individualistic College Essays: Second Edition

  • Eli Berliner
  • Daniela Brillon
  • Ella Davis
  • Sophia Hall
  • Eliana Herzog
  • Ailynn O’Neill
  • Camil Piperni
  • Eli Prager
  • Sophia Rubin

Frightopia: The Most Spooky and Surprising Stories by Young Writers

  • Ela Ager
  • Camille Allee
  • Elena Ambler
  • Advika Asthana
  • Idan Barziv
  • Olive Beck
  • Sienna Beck
  • Willa Beck
  • Tsofia Bloch-Elkouby
  • Mia Bornstein
  • Gavin Brown
  • Sonali Browning
  • Juliet Burguieres
  • Julia Cadena
  • Kian Campwala
  • Emma Chabrowski
  • Alayna Chen
  • William Clark
  • Louie Dalton
  • Leo Demper
  • Elise Diaz
  • Sofia Dinkelmann
  • Boyana Dyankova
  • Harriet Faucetta
  • Jean Frye
  • Finley Garcia
  • Sebastian Gonzalez
  • Sam Gumbel
  • Gaige Gunn
  • Miriam Hale
  • Adriana Hassani-Sadi
  • Mika Higgins-Woo
  • Sylvie Hunnicutt
  • Wren Hunnicutt
  • Sophie Katona
  • Zoey Katona
  • Ingrid Kearney
  • Sabrina Khanna
  • John Koehler
  • Layla Kumar
  • Malena Llamas
  • Henry Lomma
  • Kira Lopez
  • Alexander Luk
  • Nora Lysaught
  • Haley Marks
  • Alma Metlitsky
  • Teal Meyers
  • Niki Mohseni
  • Audrey Munoz
  • Miles Murrain
  • Charlotte Natow
  • Juliana Norinsberg
  • Sharon Omiteru
  • Madison Ortega
  • Chelsea Panfilova
  • Zoe Pazner
  • Gabriel Perez
  • Rafi Ponet
  • Ava Rizzo
  • Brette Roberti
  • Avery Rosckes
  • Nathalie Rostek-Weretka
  • Amora Ruelle
  • Cyrus Sachs
  • Sebastian Sinni
  • Charlotte Smalligan
  • Janiyah Smith
  • Lilou Solomon
  • Leila Spencer
  • Lisa Tao
  • Zsuzsa Teleki
  • Hannah Timerman
  • Elizabeth Tweedie
  • Sasha Vesensky
  • Lily Volpp
  • Devin Wong
  • Harry Xiao

A Wish Upon a Snowflake: Winning Stories of Writopia Lab’s 2023 Winter Story Contest

  • Laurel Aronian
  • Diego Azar-Wolfe
  • Madison Bennett
  • Bessa Carabetta
  • Hannah Cays
  • Mary Chen
  • Aashvi Choudhary
  • Ariadne Civin
  • Felix Del Aguila
  • Jean Frye
  • Greta Garcia
  • Sage Gasson
  • Karenna Gutierrez
  • Oliver Halkett
  • Mika Higgins-Woo
  • Prisha Hooda
  • Naomi Jeske
  • Naomi Katz-Moss
  • Amaya Khwaja-Patel
  • Poppy LaFrance
  • Audrey Lu
  • Nathalie Rostek-Weretka
  • Isobel Ryu
  • Boaz Sager
  • Aria Sharma
  • Jane Sheldon
  • Kaylie Souza
  • Margalo Teich
  • James Wilson
  • Isabella Zhou

Wonders of the Wild: A WriCampia Anthology 

  • Layla May Berrada-Riggs
  • Ellen Booth
  • Imogen Brownas
  • Sonali Browning
  • Mahnaz Daud
  • Madison Dorsey
  • Evie Fox
  • Astro Getahun
  • Adriana Gonzalez
  • Asha Harker
  • Zoe Husock
  • Evie Lee
  • Serine Lee
  • Rain Lee
  • Livi Lesburg
  • Taylen Li
  • Brian Li
  • Jun Lowenhar
  • Hunter Maguire
  • Lila Melinger
  • Sage E. Morgan
  • Stella Pham
  • Louisa Rosenblatt
  • Sophia Rubin
  • Maya Savard
  • Ruby Sinder
  • Isabella Sumner
  • Nikolina Trefalt-Liu
  • Reva Tucker
  • Yanic Valbrune
  • Tara Wong

The Art of Losing: How A Botched Game of Literary Bingo Inspired An Educational Forum with Our Moms

By Matthew Jellison

We were losing literary bingo when the thought hit us.

We were surprised to be losing. After all, Malcolm and I have spent the better part of a decade working in literacy, and Yael about a decade and a half. We are (affectionately speaking) literary nerds. In the office we share, Yael and I often pick up books hanging out on one another’s desks because we’re always curious about what the other is reading; we go on about literature, film, and television. And Malcolm seems to have an endless well of facts about various curiosities at his disposal. Take the one train back from teaching with him at a partner school, for example, and he’ll tell you about the history of a particular subway stop along the way, which then turns into a history of architecture in uptown Manhattan, which then turns into how the whole city is organized. Ask him how he knows so much about that one specific topic he’s gone into with such detail and he’ll likely say, “Oh, I was just wondering about it one day, and so I decided to research.”

All of this goes to say, we know about the world and we know about literature and there’s no reason we should not win a game of literary bingo. But there we were losing.

We were in Ohio at a social gathering for the National Council of Teachers of English Annual Conference last November. We work at Writopia Lab, a national nonprofit whose mission is to foster joy, literacy, and critical thinking in kids and teens of all backgrounds through creative writing. To that end, we build creative writing workshops for kids. They come to us after school and over the weekends at one of our many locations around the country–called labs–where they sit in aged-based groups and work on the writing that’s meaningful to them, all while deepening their knowledge of writing craft through prompts and original writing games, receiving feedback from their instructors, who are themselves professional writer, and forging a community with like-minded youth. For students who can’t come to us, we go to them, bringing our method into classrooms, CBOs, and alternative-to-detention centers for incarcerated youth. Malcolm–a songwriter–runs our songwriting program. I primarily design curriculum and oversee the professional learning of our network of creative writing instructors. Yael runs the show, and along with our CEO Rebecca, seems to effortlessly weave all the strands–from programming to operations, from everyday functioning to ambitious organizational dreaming. All three of us also teach. That’s one thing about our work culture, no matter how senior we become, how much further we root ourselves in the role of administrator, it’s important to us that we never lose sight of what it is to work directly with kids in the room.

This was our first time at the NCTE conference. We had gone to lead a panel on how we teach craft by utilizing original writing games that promote critical thinking and transformation. Besides presenting, we were there to absorb. The conference was filled with panels on almost every aspect of literacy instruction we could imagine. We would fill our days with the individual presentations that interested us the most–giving effective feedback, humanistic teaching practices, professional learning, racial justice in education, teacher burnout, AI in the classroom, and on. Some of the panels left us misty-eyed with their deep commitment and care for youth, some were duds. But we were absorbing everything, navigating the convention halls, stumbling into conversations with English teachers and educators from around the country who all seemed literate, passionate, and quirky. There was a charged energy in those halls that we all felt, and we were eager to bring it back to Writopia.

That Saturday night the energy was depleted though as the other teams were whooping us. “What’s a word that means something different than what it is?” the game leaders asked. “What the hell does that question even mean?” I asked Yael and Malcolm, exasperated. “Write down, ‘gaslighting,’ maybe we’ll get a humor point.” The judges laughed, but no point. Finally, we gave up and moved to conversation.

We all know each other in this very specific way that colleagues at a literacy nonprofit who’ve been teaching together for several years know each other. We get along, we can bounce ideas, we care about the work, and most importantly, we know how to teach together. When we get in the workshop room or a classroom, we have a common language we’ve found over the years, a sense of how we each individually communicate to a room full of kids and how we ourselves can complement each other in that room and reach the kids as a team. We also have an innate understanding as to why the other ones are here, working at this very specific place doing this very specific thing, and what makes them particularly good at this work. We all admire each other’s teaching–or at least I admire Yael and Malcolm’s–it’s a specific type of admiration and knowledge of the other two. 

So it shouldn’t have been any surprise, and maybe it wasn’t, maybe we’d known it about the other two all along but hadn’t connected all the dots, still, sitting in downtown Columbus over a failed literary bingo game, that’s when it really resonated that all of our moms are or were reading teachers, and further, tired and invigorated from panel upon panel of new knowledge and inspiration, we collectively had the deeper realization that we need to get them together for a forum with our instructors.

From left to right: Yael and her mom Robin, Matthew and his mom Claudine, and Malcolm and his mom Reggy.

Months later and it’s Spring. We design a conference of our own for our instructors. Five panels on new ways we can incorporate the hard skills–grammar, mechanics, and usage–into our creative writing workshops organically. We call it “Hard Skills Week.” On Monday, our instructors reflect on how they themselves learned to read and write, before diving into an info session on “the reading wars,” and a discussion on where–as a third space–Writopia fits into this debate. Tuesday’s session is aimed at easing the anxiety around hard skills instruction, and crowdsourcing the soundbites and missives that you can sneak into one-on-one instruction that don’t feel like outright lessons. On Wednesday, we learn new games that use grammar and mechanics as creative generators–embracing style before content, or building new characters out of verbs–rather than saving it for the end of the writing process and then forgetting to teach it entirely (something that I’ve been guilty of in my own teaching). Thursday is a deep look at who made the arbitrary grammar rules in the first place, the gatekeepers, and what their intentions were (hint: to sell books), establishing that a definition of “good” grammar is different for each and every person, that a person’s upbringing and identity are all a part of their own innate sense of grammar, and that we can use a child’s natural grammar to help them find voice. The inspiration and research for all of these sessions originated with the NCTE conference we went to last fall.

Friday’s panel–the final panel of the week–is a talkback with our moms, three outstanding educators with different backgrounds in teaching, but who clearly have a lot in common in their philosophy and approach and care for young people. I’ll stop talking now and let them speak for themselves, except to say this. These three educators, who met for the first time on Zoom in this hour, seemed to have such a common language, and seemed to have a reverence for one another’s ideas and mutual understanding, the kind that Malcolm, Yael, and I developed with each other over the years, but found in mere minutes. That they fell into it so quickly is testament to how deeply they’ve lived and breathed education. All three of us found their words and wisdom inspiring, moving, invigorating, but we’re of course biased. Still, we suspect that they’ll inspire you too. I was also heartened to catch Malcolm’s sensibility in his mother’s honesty, and a bit of Yael’s philosophy in the stories her mom told about surrounding her kids with books. It was a treat to see a bit of my colleagues in their respective moms.

It took a trip to Columbus last November for Yael, Malcolm, and I to come up with a simple, but inspiring idea. It’s important to take the teams that work well and place them in new situations, where they can think about their work and the world a little differently. This can yield innovation, even if that innovation is something as small as, “let’s have our moms hang out and talk about education on Zoom for an hour.” As an organization, we continue to branch out and send our staff to exciting new places. This year, we’ll be back at the NCTE conference, this time in Boston, leading two panels. And if there’s literary bingo happening, you better believe we’ll be there, for whatever comes up, game faces on.

Writopia’s Longtime Partnership with ESPI

Each July is filled with our longtime deeply meaningful and exciting partnership camps! For a decade now,  Writopia has been running a special writing arts camp for dozens of creative and fun-loving children and teens at Homes for the Homeless’ Saratoga Family Inn. 

Starting seven years ago, we began working with 20-30 wonderful and gifted tweens from low-resourced areas who are selected by The Exam Schools Initiative (ESPI) as they prepare to apply to NYC’s specialized, magnet, highly selective high schools. It is a gift to us to brainstorm and help cultivate original short stories, films, and graphic novels with all of these beautiful young people who deserve all of the enrichment, support, and inspiration in the world. 

Students in a creative writing workshop and playing games during break time.

ESPI directors recently surveyed 50 of their alumni for feedback on how they may further benefit from ESPI support;  80% of them have named college essay support as a “top need.” So starting this summer, we have had the deep pleasure of working with some of our former middle school ESPI students, now highly engaged college applicants. In the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s reversal of Affirmative Action, equal access to college access support systems has become even more urgent.    

Students in the graphic novel and filmmaking electives.

According to ESPI Founder, Andy McCord, “For ESPI students the Writopia week is a revelation. For students who have already begun to self-identify as readers and writers the experience is a homecoming. Many of these students continue on their own with Writopia in future years on scholarship. For other students, probably a majority, who are math kids who have never liked ELA, Writopia connects their innate verbal flair with a subject that had often seemed dull and restrictive in school. Our goals are explicitly academic, in that we seek to address the “excellence gap” that keeps many Black, Latinx, and low-income students out of the pipelines to schools like Hunter, Stuyvesant, and Bronx Science, but we find that a creative approach like Writopia is essential across disciplines to build deeper motivations that can underlie achievement at high levels as our students progress through school. At an organizational level, ESPI’s partnership with Writopia has been a model.”

The story and data behind Writopia’s 2023 professional development pilot, launched this winter with the NYCDOE Chancellor’s Office

By Rebecca Wallace-Segall

Within this essay, I  examine the ongoing youth literacy crisis in New York City and, along with it, two long-standing, opposing education policies—progressive and traditional—that have sought to address it. I argue that resisting dogmatic adherence to one or the other of these approaches, coupled with teacher-centered professional development opportunities that emphasize educators’ reconnection to the personal experience of writing, will improve classroom writing education goals. Over the course of a decade and a half, I co-designed a new educational framework that combines and elaborates upon the strengths of both approaches; over the past year, I co-designed a teacher-centered professional development opportunity for New York City public school teachers that allows them the space to apply that framework to their own writing and, ultimately, grow as both writers and writing educators. Inspired by John Kingdon’s open policy window theory, as a new administration took office in the city in 2022, I researched and connected with old and new contacts that lead a like-minded policy community within the Department of Education in order to implement and test this professional development project. In this paper, I imagine a city in which all writing teachers have access to joyful, teacher-centered writing workshops of their own, and the potential impacts this would have on youth; I suggest that building bridges between educators and writing experts, between progressive and traditional educators, and from high- to low-performing schools, may improve literacy education for public school youth in New York City.

Click here to read the full essay.

Click here for more information about how we can best serve your school.

National Newsletter 2022: Staff and Organizational Updates

Spotlight: Writopia Lab was profiled for CUNY TV!


  • Rebecca Wallace-Segall, Chief Executive Officer, published the Writopia founding and impact story in the Village Voice in 2022 and co-authored an article on partnering for literacy impact in the Afterschool Matters Journal. She is completing her Masters in Urban Education Policy at CUNY Graduate Center this winter.
  • Yael Schick, Co-Associate Executive Director, graduated from the Harvard Graduate School of Education in 2022 with a Masters in Education Leadership, Organizations, and Entrepreneurship. At Harvard, she was a recipient of a Saul Zaentz Fellowship, awarded to emerging leaders in early childhood education.
  • Jeremy Wallace-Segall, Chief Operations Officer, completed a Certificate in Business Excellence at Columbia Business School‘s Social Leaders Program for Nonprofit Professionals.
  • Janelle Williams, Director of Programs and Outreach, had her novel, Gone Like Yesterday, accepted for publication by Tiny Reparations Books, forthcoming in February 2023.
  • Rita Feinstein, D.C. Regional Manager, had her narrative poetry compilation, Everything Is Real, published through Brain Mill Press.
  • John Manuel Arias’ debut novel, Where There Was Firewas accepted for publication by Flatiron Books.
  • Léna Roy, Bianca Turetsky, Rebecca Wallace-Segall, and Janelle Williams, whose proposed panel was accepted to the Association for Writing Programs conference forthcoming in Seattle in 2023. 
  • Rebecca Wallace-Segall’s session, co-proposed with Susan Matloff-Nieves, the Vice President of Innovation and Justice at Goddard Riverside, was accepted to the New York State Network for Youth Success conference.
    • Special thank you to the Pinkerton Foundation for their ongoing commitment to extending Writopia’s literacy impact throughout the broader after-school educational landscape.
  • Léna Roy, Director of Teen Programs, and Rob Roy, Director of Program Operations, launched Writopia’s first university-based residential program, Advanced Writing Seminar, at The New School in 2022.
  • Matthew Jellison, Senior Manager of Education, and Elsa Bermúdez, Los Angeles Regional Manager and WriCampia Co-Director, ran a free summer program for Portland Public Schools students.
  • Bianca Turetsky became our Associate Director of Programs.
  • Tom Flynn became our Director of Business Operations and Development.
  • Will Bond became our Manager of Digital Media and Communications.
  • Jocelyn Gottschalk became our Senior HR Manager.
  • Malcolm Knowles became a Program Manager.
  • Tasnim Hussain became a Program Manager.
  • Shanille Martin became our Registration and Debate Program Lead.
  • Michaela Florio became a Project Manager.
  • And a special congratulations to Danielle Sheeler, Co-Associate Executive Director, for the birth of her first baby, Maya Fae!

Instructors’ 2022 Publications

Welcome our 2022 New Full-Time Staff

  • Carly Sorenson, Instructor and Registration Associate
  • Christina McDowell, Registration and Outreach Coordinator; Instructor
  • Lizz Mangan, Private Sessions Coordinator
  • Jem Werner, Registration Associate
  • John Manuel Arias, Registration Coordinator
  • Matthew Wong, IT Specialist
  • Peter Quinn-Jacobs, Operations, Registration, and RPG Coordinator

Partnership Highlight

  • We have been serving juniors and seniors at WHEELS, Washington Heights Expeditionary Learning School. This year their team has been internally measuring our impact on 80 of their writers. We are thrilled to start sharing their early findings with you! 

Writopia Publishing Lab Highlights

Specialty Program Highlights

  • WriCampia
    • Served 200 kids at our 11-day sleepaway camp in the Poconos. Enrollment is opening soon for our August 14th-August 25 2023 session!
    • Two films made in the Filmmaking Track at WriCampia were selected for the New York Short Film Festival. Congratulations to Sam Stearns for INERTIA and Castle Bloodgood and Moon Emigli for Worm On A Genius String!
  • Special thank you to Alex Tlatelpa, our Accounting and Operations Specialist, for bringing Mabel to WriCampia this year!
  • Worldwide Plays Festival
    • Produced 32 short plays live in Bryant Park.
Watch the plays from the festival in the playlist below!

Missed the student accomplishment newsletter in June? Check it out and let us know if you have more news to share! 

During these difficult financial times, our team continues to do great work. Please help us stay intact and continue to have impact into the new year. On behalf of our Board of Directors and our entire staff, thank you and happy holidays!
Support Writopia Lab

College Essay Spotlight

Our graduating seniors wrote dozens of individualistic, beautifully-crafted college essays at Writopia this year that helped college admissions teams get to know—and feel deeply connected to—them as people. I am excited to share two essays below because of the creative format the writers chose to employ and because of the high level of personal reflection and analysis they shared. I hope you enjoy reading them as much as they enjoyed writing them!   

Eliana’s Essay

“So, Eliana. What’s your sustained investigation? What’s the meaning behind this painting?” Ms. Fallon, my art teacher asks. It’s our monthly in-class critique, and it’s my turn to present my project. “Well, it’s a long story…” I begin to respond, reflecting over the moments that led me to where I was. I contain a multitude of histories and stories that no one can see, but that I feel deeply. These histories help shape who I am.  

I’m seven and visiting my maternal grandmother’s family in Finland. I learn how to play Old Maid from my great aunt and greet my cousin’s cows, feeding them chocolate chip cookies.  

I’m ten and my sister and I are visiting our paternal grandparents in Brussels for the first time without my parents. It is thrilling to be in a foreign country without our parents. We visit Le Grand Place and its museums, explore castles, play Rummikub, and light Shabbat candles.  

I’m thirteen and eating Sunday brunch with family and friends the day after my bat mitzvah. My father’s family is there, the ones who escaped Poland in the war and immigrated to Venezuela. Although I am tired from the beautiful chaos of the previous day, I feel encompassed by the love of all those who traveled from near and far to support me as I read Torah. Everyone speaks Spanish and English while eating bagels and arepas and telling me how much I’ve grown: “¿Me recuerdas? I changed your diapers!” I feel incredibly fortunate to have my father’s Venezuelan dishes and family every Sunday, allowing me to connect with my heritage through delicious food.  

I’m fourteen and walking the streets of Jerusalem with my family. I hear Hebrew all around me and notice Judaica stores on every third street. I visit the Western Wall and feel the 2000 years of history. I stand on the roof of a citadel and view the city around me, feeling connected to my heritage. I buy a necklace in Tzfat, which I will wear practically daily for the next few years. 

I’m sixteen and, while exploring ideas for paintings, I ask my grandpa, the lifelong educator, to tell me more about his side of the family. In response, I get a 100-page packet. Looking at my ancestors’ names, it hits me once again that barely over 150 years in the past, my ancestors were enslaved Africans. Some days later, my mom and I are eating lunch and processing how racial justice has improved since then, yet how much more progress is necessary. My grandpa, a 78-year-old Black man, a retired teacher and school superintendent, had just moved to New Hampshire for the summer, out of fear of both COVID-19 and getting shot by the police.   

I’m seventeen and creating my final portfolio for AP art. I paint the farm and Le Grand Place. I paint the streets of Tsfat and arepas. I paint a Torah in my arms and draw the Lodz ghetto. I paint dark hands in chains and a Bantu mask, learning more about African art in the process. When I present my work, my classmates are quiet, ask many questions, and say, “We didn’t know your family was so diverse.” I shrug it off. I pass; this is who I am. Just because my heritage isn’t visible at first glance doesn’t make it any less meaningful. Through my art, I can share my story and feel a little less unseen. Art has helped me feel more comfortable discussing my identity and enhanced my connection with my family. I now understand the power of sharing who I am with the world. When someone shares who they are, the world becomes a more incredible place.  

There is loneliness in feeling unseen, but there is fulfillment in knowing who I am and all that my ancestors have overcome to lead me to where I am now. 

Ailynn’s Essay

Two Minutes Till: I’m going to need full focus for what I’m about to do. I can feel the presence of my group mates in the room, even though I’m not looking at them. People give off energy, I think, whether they mean to or not, and I can feel theirs almost as strongly as my own. 

Noah is pacing, Jack is fiddling with his inhaler, Charlie is staring off into space, and Tomoko has mysteriously disappeared. An unspoken understanding passes between me and Noah: we are both terrified, but we can’t show it because that will make it real.

One Minute Till: We form a huddle, like a football team. Music can, in fact, be an athletic endeavor, especially in a chamber group. Everyone must be aware of each other, simply through peripheral vision and non-verbal communication. 

Noah tells us to try to just have fun. I translate: Play with wild abandon. We nod. This piece is so dramatic, we silently assure each other, it almost plays itself. Yet we are keenly aware of the lack of control we really have out there. A violin might fall out of tune. Someone might miss a measure. The panic might swallow us up. 

Twenty Seconds Till: We line up. The walls begin to close in, but I push them away and quiet my breathing. I don’t look up at the faces of the professors and students in the balconies, in case they can read my thoughts. I’ve had years of practice, but the better I am, the higher my expectations of myself are.

Time’s up: We bow, our voices reedy as we announce our names and what we’re playing: Dvorak’s Piano Quintet in A minor, first movement. I sit down, smooth my purple dress out on the piano bench. I know this. Charlie looks scared, but determined. I nod and give her an assuring wink. We know this

I start my opening solo, letting my fingers linger lovingly on the keys before sound emerges. The cello part dances alongside me, her notes sometimes complementing mine and sometimes clashing purposefully. The others join us, sometimes in unison, sometimes forging their own paths. It feels like the first time I’m hearing it, getting lost in the beauty and emotion behind every phrase.

This is the moment I usually start to unravel. But I don’t. Instead, it’s as if the chaos of my life comes together. I know who I am, I know what I’m doing, I know why I like it. This is for me alone, it’s both this beautiful exploration into myself and an external break from the hectic nature of life and everything I’m interested in; it encompasses my love for history, my need for non-verbal communication, my desire to share with others something that is personal, precious, and instant. It speaks to my ability to empathize and internalize feelings, my love of good stories. Music ties my entire life together. It creates a bond between things that usually feel separate and makes me feel like a full, whole person.

Seven minutes later: This is what it’s supposed to feel like. Applause erupts around me from all sides. Full of adrenaline, I bow. The walls are where they are supposed to be. A light feeling grows in my chest–We did it. And I would do it all over again, just to feel that infinite, temporary joy for a few more minutes. It’s the first time I haven’t performed just to get through the piece. Instead, the melodies flowed through my veins and the world of the piece fully enveloped me in its arms. I smiled as I hit the last note. The breath I let out now is not one of relief, but wistfulness at having to leave the scene of this beautiful creation. This is what it’s supposed to feel like. I feel grounded, ready to take on the world.

I Am Curious…

by Bianca Turetsky

Brené Brown’s “Dare to Lead”

At our last virtual retreat we took an exercise from Brene Brown’s book, Dare to Lead, and through the process of elimination discovered what our core values truly are. In the busyness of day to day life, particularly these past two years, it’s not a question we often give ourselves the time to dig into. What really matters to me? These central beliefs guide us in both our personal and professional lives because as Brene points out, we only have one set of values. A lot of unhappiness and unease creep in when one’s values at work don’t align with their values in their personal and home lives.

We shut off our cameras and individually pondered over an extensive alphabetical list of values ranging from accountability to leadership to wisdom. We started by picking ten values, which was challenging enough, and then reluctantly culled our list down to two values. The values that act as our North Star, much like how I describe a log line in a novel to my novel writing workshop. Everyone’s values were different. It was hard tossing out creativity, community, success, and learning. I felt tremendous guilt crossing out family. But for the sake of the exercise, I did it. 

I was surprised at what I was left with: 

Joy and Curiosity 

Upon more reflection I realized that curiosity and joy felt like umbrella terms for many of the other values in my more expansive list. For me, joy includes humor, connection, well-being, optimism and love. Curiosity encompasses creativity, learning, and flexibility. When I looked at the two words again through this lens, they felt true to me.

Bianca teaching a workshop at WriCampia.

I have always loved how joy was one of the first words of Writopia’s mission statement: Writopia Lab fosters joy, literacy, and critical thinking in children and teens from all backgrounds through creative writing. If you are in a place of joy, you are more open to learning and community and growing. You are not coming from a place of fear. I’ve always tried to take a Marie Kondo approach to life – does the way I spend my days bring me joy? Because of course as we all know, the way you spend your days is the way you spend your life. Writing brings me joy. Working with kids brings me joy. Helping young writers tell their stories brings me joy. And seeing the joy these writers experience when they write a sentence or story they are proud of makes me feel so lucky to have had the opportunity to put this value into practice. 

Bianca assisting writers at a reading.

I lead my workshops coming from a place of curiosity. I genuinely want to learn more about who these writers are and how I can guide them to tell their truths. I’m curious, what story are you destined to tell? Through our strengths based approach, constructive feedback is offered in the form of questions: I’m curious, how does your character feel at this moment? I’m curious, what does this magical forest smell like? I’m curious, what inspired this hilarious talking cat? I’m curious, I’m curious… 

Even in her 90s, my grandmother is still the most dynamic person in the room. She has an insatiable curiosity that has never diminished. She is always learning new things, meeting new people, asking questions and actively listening to the answers. Not surprisingly, she was a beloved second grade teacher. A smaller group of us did this exercise a few years ago and I found myself with two different core values (“making a difference” and “creativity”). These are values that still strongly resonate with me. They definitely made my top 10 list this year. But a lot has changed in the world in a few years and I think when things seem really hard, I am actively leaning more towards joy. When the news seems confusing and scary, I am actively leaning towards curiosity. I plan to do the activity again in the future to see what resonates with me at that moment in my life. It’s exciting to know that even as adults we’re ever evolving. I hope to still be chasing joy with our young writers. And I’m curious to meet my future self and find out. 

A Lucky Few Enjoyed Writing Their College Essays During the 2020-2021 Admissions Season. Here’s Why. by Rebecca Wallace-Segall, Executive Director

By April, the grueling 2020-2021 college admissions process will have to come to an end, with over five million high seniors finding out which colleges have accepted them during one of the most disheartening application years in decades. And just then, as the trees begin to blossom and the Covid-19 vaccine supply begins to meet its demand, another five million teenagers will begin their applications from scratch. But do not fret: the lucky few will enjoy major aspects of the application process despite all. 

Because of the power of creative nonfiction. I’ll explain.

When I founded Writopia Lab in 2007 as a creative writing youth community, I did not have college essay mentorship in mind. But in 2009, Eunju, a high school senior in one of my creative writing workshops, showed me her college essay and asked me if I’d read it. I agreed because I was curious to see what was being asked of her, and what she was offering up. What I found myself reading was a brilliant, playful and creative identity narrative about her name that immediately drew me in, provoked and moved me, and left me feeling like I knew her much more deeply than I had before I read it. She edited and revised it again and again until we said: it’s ready! But when she shared it with friends who were at Yale at the time they said, “You sound like you’re trying to start a cult, don’t recommend!”  And her advisor at her elite public high school didn’t approve either, telling her, “It doesn’t sound like a college essay.” What was she trying to convey about herself? the advisor asked. I read it again, perplexed. 

We both agreed that she should use it nonetheless. 

A few months later, Eunju received a hand-written note on her acceptance and full financial aid letter from Yale declaring: “Loved your essay!” And thus I realized that something was very wrong in the world of college essay writing guidance. And something very right in approaching college essay writing as, essentially, the most exciting form of creative nonfiction in our world today. 

In some ways, this is not a surprising statement. When we have the opportunity to reflect on and claim editorial authority over the narratives of our own lives, it’s simple: we feel happier, write more enthusiastically, and to our highest standards. But we have to be given the space to do so. Which means we need to stop being afraid to give our teens the room to think and write creatively and authentically— yes, especially when applying to colleges. And what’s actually surprising is how few kids are given that space.    

Indeed since Eunju, I have worked with hundreds of teens — and the Writopia team with thousands —  who show up weighed down and stressed out by the conflicting and confusing messages they have received: Market yourself. Impress the admissions committee. Position yourself as a leader. Be personal.  But don’t be cliche. Don’t sound privileged. Don’t sound like a pity case. Or one of the most confusing directives: Don’t mention a sibling, or really anyone else for that matter—this essay has to be entirely about you! 

But great news: you can ignore the noise. I have sat on panels with members and directors of various colleges’ admissions committees, have spoken to others on the phone, and rarely do they share the same outlook on the “ideal” college essay. They universally agree on one thing: that they want to get to know you a bit as a human being– moved by your maturity, humor, humility, curiosity, capacity for growth, and overall sensibility in the world.

When I tell applicants this, I see their bodies relax. And then, when I show them examples of voice-driven, fiercely individualistic essays, they actually get excited. I am allowed to write that? Yes. And you might even get a personal thank you note for it from a director of an admissions committee for making someone’s day by sharing a story that moved them or made them laugh or just simply surprised and entertained them. 

College essay writing should be celebrated as the most widely explored subgenre of creative nonfiction today rather than a self-marketing opportunity. After all, it is the one main section of the college application that allows the applicant’s humanity to emerge above a set of grades and scores. Yes, the college essay industry has promoted cynicism and inequity as families desperately try to learn what admissions committees want and how to deliver it just so — often at a very high price. But there is another way: ignore all the noise in order to pursue your personal voice and story.

At Writopia, we work with funders like the Pinkerton Foundation, the Meringoff Family Foundation, and are supported by our board members like Kim Hartman, along with school partners to make sure that this high-level instruction is available to anyone who seeks it out.  

In one school we work with in Harlem, the seniors struggle to make it to their classes as they navigate Covid-19 related health and financial family crises around them. But they show up for online college essay workshops. “Ms. I thought college prep was going to be boring,” chats Thais, one high school senior in Harlem in a Zoom chat to her Writopia instructor this past fall. “But I love this. I’m dead enjoying it.” Another joins the chat: “It’s dead fun and interesting… it’s the one class I feel glad I woke up for.”  

This process works on many levels. On the social-emotional level, mentors and mentees bond during this process because there is little room for the superficial; rather, we live in the realm of deep reflection, clarity of expression, self-discovery, and real-world connections. Our writers leave with more confidence, a passion for writing, and a much better understanding of themselves as thinkers and writers. On the admissions level, the great majority of our writers win admittance to their top choice schools.  

And the power of discovering your writing voice doesn’t cease upon application submissions. In October, one of my high school seniors, Sophie, who attends a top public magnet arts school, was tirelessly crafting her college essays. She was writing about the changing role of art and creativity in her life, her learning disability, and other personal aspects of her life. She didn’t smile often so I feared I was exhausting her with my close reads and challenging questions, like “Is this how you really felt?”  Or, “Is that what he actually said?” 

Interrupting a random quiet moment over Zoom, she looked up at me and said, “This process has changed my life…  figuring out who I am and what I really thought in any one moment… I write all the time now…” and then went back to her edits. I looked at her as she typed away: the application process didn’t destroy her — in fact, it made her more excited than ever about what was coming next. 

You can read Eunju, Sophie, and Thais’ essays, get inspired to write your own creative nonfiction, and support this work by buying The Writopia Publishing Lab’s newest book, “30 Fiercely Individualistic Essays of the Decade”Proceeds help ensure that we provide college essay support to every single writer who registers using our sliding scale, applies for full financial aid, or attends our workshops through our partnership programs at Title 1 schools.

Thanks so much and happy writing!

– Rebecca Wallace-Segall – Executive Director

How to Talk About The Scholastic Awards’ Results by Writopia Founder Rebecca Wallace-Segall and Program Directors Yael Schick & Danielle Sheeler

This year’s results for the Regional Scholastic Writing Awards are intended to be announced in most regions on January 28th, 2021.

Many of our writers ages 13-18 will find out that their pieces were honored with honorable mentions, silver keys, and/or gold keys! We are so, so happy for all of our teens who received positive feedback this year. It feels great to work hard and be heard and celebrated by people other than our own parents and Writopia instructors. Of course, not everyone wins recognition each year though. Either way, how we respond to the results impact our childrens’ emotional well-being.

The suggested responses below help cultivate happy long-term writers.

The Writer Who Wins Recognition

After big hugs and cheers, be as thoughtful as your writer is about what words you use to celebrate their success. I would like to urge you to praise the hard work, dedication, and courage that your writer invested into their writing this year. Carol Dweck and a growing body of researchers recommend refraining from praising children’s raw talent alone. Their research suggests that praising hard work and dedication leads to … more hard work and dedication.

As writers, we all know the value of winning outside recognition. Receiving recognition from publications and awards can increase a teen’s confidence and help cement their identity as a writer. A new writer may understand the power of their writing in a brand new way— a stranger read their work and was moved/inspired/impressed! After receiving recognition, many writers feel validated, encouraged, and committed to return to their writing and continue to develop it to its furthest. Most writers have a deep desire to connect to with a wide audience through the written word, and this is an important first step in that journey.

Unfortunately, since our writers submit over 2,000 pieces a year to various competitions and publications, we have also seen kids become negatively affected by the process–even when they win. We have seen kids take in tremendous praise and attention after they win awards, and then produce less work afterward, become increasingly anxious about their work, and even plagiarize out of the fear of disappointing family and teachers in the next competition. In the past, an 11-year-old writer we know plagiarized a story and handed it in as a school assignment. She explained over tears: “My classroom teacher said to me at the beginning of the year ‘I heard you were a gifted writer, I can’t wait to see your writing!’ I felt so anxious about that expectation.”

A Happy Writer Needs:

Hugs, high-fives, and an acknowledgement of their dedication to writing and revising and sharing. A happy writer needs to hear that you were moved by their writing. Final takeaway: Laugh and cry when you’re supposed to laugh and cry as you read. What is more inspiring and uplifting than that?

The Writer Who Did Not Win Recognition

Parents share with us each year their challenges with figuring out how to speak to a disappointed child about not receiving recognition for their creative works. We have a few suggestions that we hope you find helpful:

Acknowledge your children’s disappointment while staying focused on the positive–how effective of a writer they are, how subjective the adjudication process is, how much they love writing, and how many more years ahead there are to write and share. It is very important that the writer does not feel the weight of your disappointment in him/her or in the results in general on top of their disappointment. Sometimes when we think we’re commiserating, we are actually exacerbating their pain. You are not upset at all about the results because you are so proud of your writer for writing, revising, and submitting.

(Please note: if the writer had been resistant to revision in workshop, instructors may use this as an opportunity to encourage further revision. It is ideal to not take this topic on as a parent in most cases, though, at least in intense emotional moments.)

At Writopia, we believe that the success is in the submission. A writer isn’t a writer because she wins awards; a writer is someone who has the motivation and passion to write and to submit regardless of the result. We are all writers at Writopia. Not only do we know how much goes into producing a piece of writing, but we also understand how difficult it is to share writing, whether it be with a workshop or to a panel of anonymous judges. We have all faced rejection; it’s part of the journey.

The good news: Every one of our regular Writopia writers who has continued to submit throughout high school has received an award, a publication, or a production by the time of high school graduation.

We make sure that your child’s workshop environment continues with positive support and enthusiasm for self-motivated writing. However, we certainly understand that this may be a sensitive time for our writers, and we want to let you know that Writopia instructors and staff are here to continue to encourage and support your writer. And so we have a policy of not discussing who received recognition and who didn’t inside of workshop, as we have already celebrated everyone for finishing their pieces, finessing them, and sending them in.

In Conclusion

Your kids have dedicated time to imagine, articulate, narrate, and polish their writing, and ultimately, help us all consider the world in a new way. They make us laugh and cry every day. That is the real cause to celebrate.