In 2005 Lauren Kirshner started a poetry salon for women in the inpatient ward at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. Inspired by the women she encountered, Kirshner saw the potential of creative writing as a tool for empowerment. Now she has launched Sister Writes, a creative writing program for marginalized women in the Parkdale and Bloor/Dufferin neighbourhoods.

Kirshner, a teacher and author, graduated from U of T’s creative writing graduate program in 2007. “I wanted to create a program where marginalized women could write about what matters to them while learning literacy skills,” she said. “The mainstream media says very little about the lived experiences of women facing poverty and mental health issues, and this near silence creates the illusion that these experiences do not exist.”

For Sister Writes, Kirshner is partnering with Sistering to run a 10-week pilot program for its female clients. Sistering, an agency that supports low-income, homeless, and marginalized women, will fund the program alongside the Toronto Arts Council and the Lawrence Foundation.

At the end of the program, the women design and publish a magazine to showcase their efforts.

“Most of the participants have never been in a creative writing workshop or a setting where the ‘I’ matters most of all,” Kirshner said. “A simple thing like a notebook and pen, time, and a safe place to write can be hugely empowering.”

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