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The workshop’s first session was attended by a diverse group of aspiring writers and featured Philadelphia Youth Poet laureate Otter Jung-Allen.

Credit: Megan Jones

Aspiring writers who identify as trans or gender nonconforming can cultivate their passion in a welcoming environment at a new workshop run through the Kelly Writers House.

The group, which will feature a different guest writer each month, is restricted to writers aged 14-22 years old.

Penn Design professor Amy Hillier and KWH Community Partnerships Developer Rachel Zolf dreamed up the idea.

“Everyone should write because writing can help support people’s identity formation and help build the community,” Hillier said in an interview.

The writing group’s first session in mid-September featured a visit from Philadelphia Youth Poet laureate Otter Jung-Allen. Three trans co-facilitators, Kalen McLean, Hazel Edwards and Andrew Spiers, oversaw the session, offering support for those in attendance and conducting the opening and closing exercises.

“We [the co-facilitators] were worried because we didn’t have anyone RSVP to the first event, then we had at least 20 kids at the first workshop when we thought we’d maybe have five,” McLean said.

Edwards highlighted the diversity of attendees, who displayed unique and different writing styles and personalities.

Though only the one session has happened, the three co-facilitators are already hopeful about future sessions and beyond.

McLean said the existence of a writing group like this is necessary for a trans or gender nonconforming person’s growth as a writer.

“You learn best in environments where you don’t have to worry about outside stresses,” McLean said.

Edwards added, “It’s good to have this big supportive place where folks identify exclusively with this community.”

The Kelly Writers House has also worked to make the workshop as accessible as possible. It costs no money.

The group is free and open to Penn and non-Penn students alike, with SEPTA tokens and snacks provided for all those who attend. The group will continue to meet on the second Saturday of each month during the academic year.

The next session on Oct. 8th will feature guest Kavi Ade, a writer, activist, arts educator and nationally recognized spoken word poet.

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