I had worked in educational programs for many years with youth before it dawned on me that there was an absence of women's voices in the textbooks my students and their families were reading. It was an "a-ha" moment, and I immediately decided to do something about it. Overnight, I started reaching out to women around the world, asking them if they'd be willing to write essays about topics such as gender-based violence, war, peace, feminism, LGTBQ rights, indigenous rights, and the conservation of natural resources. Written as a collection of letters, each author would address her letter to her younger, teenage self.
I was floored by the response. Most of the women I reached out to enthusiastically agreed to write letters. It was the beginning of 2013; I thought I'd complete the anthology by the beginning of 2014. Ha! Not a chance. As I got to work collecting letters, assisting women with their drafts, and conducting interviews to help compose letters with women who couldn't read or write, it became clear that this project wasn't just a collection of letters, but a budding movement.
Some authors said that writing letters to their teenage selves changed their lives. Some of them confronted trauma that had been resting under the surface for years. Some even decided that the process of writing letters was too painful to finish final drafts. Others felt empowered by the process. A few women submitted drafts overnight, while it took others years. Some of the women I started working with in 2013 have yet to complete a draft, although they are working on it.
Editing this book has taught me that half the challenge of writing isn't the actual writing, but the thinking. These reflective letters take tremendous energy to write.
I started using completed letters mid-2013 as curriculum for the very first Advice Project Media class. Three years later, upward of 100,000 people have read the letters, and over 500 students have used them to learn about global issues from a feminist point of view. They've also used the letters as inspiration to write their own deeply personal reflective essays.
I invite you to read about some of the inspiring contributors to Advice to My Thirteen-Year-Old Self and also to read a few excerpts from the anthology. I think this will be the year the anthology is completed, but if not, no matter, because truly, it's all about the process.