From the Phlog:
Tonight: Amy Goldwasser and a few of the Red contributors come to the Harvard Coop at 7 pm.
I want to write something for Red, the recently-released, Plume-published collection of 58 essays by teenage women, “on what fires up their lives today.” Or rather, my teenage self would like to. While I was scribbling bad poetry about trees in my journal (the old-fashioned way), the Red writers keep up a group blog, opine politically for the Huffington Post, dash off op-eds for the LA Times and Newsweek, and their words may soon become a play. How’s that for college application fodder? (Founding the Anime Club now seems so much less impressive, doesn’t it?)
The exposure is both exciting and warranted. Red gives these 58 essayists a place where their thoughts are appreciated – which probably does not happen often enough for teenage women. If I could time-travel back to 1998 and offer my high school aged, Baltimore Catholic school girl self the opportunity to pen something candid for a book, I have no idea what I would have said – but hopefully it would be as compelling, unpretentious, and reflective as this assemblage of writings, some of which are by Boston locals (or semi-locals).
The book is the brainchild of Amy Goldwasser, a freelance editor and writer for publications like the New Yorker (NYer devotees will remember her hilariously fantastic Talk of the Town about Christian Louboutin over-the-knee boots), Vogue and the New York Times. The idea to collect and publish essays by teenage women dawned upon her by virtue of a steady volunteer gig, teaching writing at the LowerEastside Girls Club. Goldwasser admired the strength, honesty, and lack of compulsion to conform to a certain style of the writers she worked with there (as opposed to professional writers, whose work she edits daily), and thought that type of writing needed an outlet.
“I’d say in a lot of ways seeing if I could turn this into a book was a selfish idea,” Goldwasser says via -email. “Because I was enjoying the volunteer editing more than my paid work. I thought maybe I could combine them.” So, she sent an e-mail to a few dozen friends, seeking writing submissions from teenage girls across the country, and not long after, she was sorting through 800-something submissions.
Red reads like 58 diaries at once; it feels simultaneously enthralling and verboten, like a hidden entrance into the private thinking spheres of teenage girls, circa 2008. No tiny gold key is required to gain access, though – these women gush their thoughts with ease, about everything, from the challenges of being tall (as relayed by Tufts student Charlotte Steinway), to divorce, to spelling bees, to being too fat or too skinny, to losing friends to the clique-commandeered world of middle school, to losing friends to fatal car accidents, to having crushes on boys, to having crushes on JohnnyDepp, and to having crushes on other women.
“People stereotype and categorize us and assume they know us,” e-mails Caro Fink, 18, from Lexington. Fink penned an extremely brave piece for Red, about her battles with cutting, as a tool for coping with emotional distress. “This book really showcases the variety and intensity of our lives and gives a real version, not censored by psychology and preconceived notions.”
“Teenagers’ opinions often are disregarded because of our lack of experience,” e-mails Sara Harari – who, coincidentally, is also 18, and from Lexington. “I think that the essays in this book show that while we may be young, we have a lot to say, whether or not you’re ready to listen.”
Harari’s essay an intensely thoughtful and emotionally charged account of dealing with a high school nemesis; a boy pseudonymed “Todd,” whose very vocal case of homophobia was a daily challenge for Harari.
“I can’t help fantasizing about punching him in the face and breaking his nose cleanly in two,” she writes in Red. “Disfigured for life, he will be forced to see the error of his ways… Maybe flaming liberals like me who support women’s rights, world peace, and wind turbines just weren’t meant to get along with sexist, war-obsessed, gas-guzzling raging conservatives like him.”
Harari never clocked “Todd” in the face, luckily. Instead, she fought back with her writing. “The essay was my way of retaliating,” she says in an e-mail. “I was eager to get word out about facing homophobia in high school, even though it wasn’t directed at me.”