Write Pittsburgh is a collective that serves the region through writing programs designed to encourage autonomy and self-direction, provide opportunities and access to resources, build community, empower writers to grow their voices, and encourage experimentation and self-expression in a non-judgmental atmosphere. Our seven weekly workshop locations are free for teens who can drop in and write under the guidance of our team of facilitators and alongside peers who are also interested in writing.
In fall 2019, our teen program serving LGBTQ+ youth, Rainbow Writers, moved locations from Repair the World in East Liberty to White Whale Bookstore in Bloomfield. Remake Learning’s 2019 Ignite Grant supported our move and allowed us to develop and enhance strategies for outreach to and support of LGBTQ+ teens in the Pittsburgh region.
Though arts education has long demonstrated an ability to help learners develop vital skills in creative problem-solving, critical thinking, language mastery, and more, schools have consistently cut arts programming for over a decade—decisions that disproportionately impact minority students. At the same time, important conversations about representation in the classroom and beyond have gained much-needed traction.
Through free, drop-in weekly workshops, Rainbow Writers creates an intentional space for teens who wish to celebrate their varied experiences and tap into the many benefits of arts-integrated learning. Workshops intentionally focus on the unique needs of LGBTQ+ teens, and young writers age 12-18 are invited to grow their voices through creative expression in writing while connecting to other opportunities.
For the past two years, Alyssa Cypher has been creating and leading these workshops for LGBTQ+ teens. She’s had a deep and positive impact at Rainbow Writers, and especially in mentoring one student, whose eloquent writings on activism mounted each week along with a developing confidence and sense of self. I got the chance to speak to Alyssa Cypher about her experience
during our spring semester workshop.
“Because we consistently had one participant, we catered the workshop to what this participant wanted to work on, which was activism, social justice, and spoken word craft and performance. By the end of the semester, the participant gained a lot of confidence in their writing through spoken word performances based on our watching short videos of talented artists and practicing how to emulate their techniques, establishing how that helps make a performance more powerful. We also worked on dreaming activism (what we envision for activism in five years), as well as writing for impact and change-making — considering our audience and how to get a powerful message across through writing and spoken word.
We focused a lot on the importance of recognizing someone’s pronouns for an audience that doesn’t get it. Why are pronouns so important to us as Queer writers? How does misgendering us create harm? How can we tell this story through writing?”
Alyssa was able to develop a strong mentor/mentee relationship with this student, one of the goals of our programs. By using the student’s passion for activism, she was able to bolster their confidence in public performance. Alyssa’s work with Rainbow Writers and all the teens who have participated in the workshop is a wonderful example of our strengths-based, participant-driven program.
Due to shifts in public gatherings as a response to Covid-19, Write Pittsburgh workshops, including Rainbow Writers, currently meet online. For more information, visit www.writepittsburgh.com or find Write Pittsburgh on social media.