Paving the Way, Paying it Forward By Nicole M. Young

My interest in writing emerged when I first relocated to Western Massachusetts in 2007. Joining a writing a performance group as a way to learn more about the area and make friends, I discovered a hidden passion for scripting story through poetry. From there, I began writing plays, maintaining a blog and even writing articles for local newspapers. I uncovered a gift that laid dormant for some time…as I did win a statewide poetry competition in third grade back in Michigan.

Fast forward to 2011. I had a substantial amount of writing and thought to start submitting for publication. Like many writers, I got rejected from countless journals, emerging writers’ competitions, retreats and workshops that required an in-depth application and intense screening process and anthologies geared towards supporting writers like myself. I gave up for quite a bit, not practicing art for several years. Though returning back to writing in 2017, I stopped submitting as I was told that I needed to learn the science of getting accepted.

Frustrated, I reached out to friends and acquaintances who have been published before to inquire and identify what I was doing wrong and what I needed to understand this very competitive process. I was told things from finding a mentor to apply for an MFA in Creative Writing to just continue blindly shooting your shot. All of these things cost something, whether it’s time, dignity or a lot of money – as I possess an MFA in another field and have already acquired a significant amount of debt.

Later in 2017, my life was suddenly derailed unexpectedly. By Christmas, both parents have died (both sudden). As many loved ones do, my mother and father left behind money so that I can care for myself beyond their days. Thinking back to all of those rejections, I decided to take power in my own hands in order to garner exposure of my work. In 2018, taking all of the work that I’ve written since 2009 I self-produced a spoken word album. Thinking of all of the lessons my parents had taught me, I felt the need to do something for . other writers who may not have the means that I do. I am taking the income generated from album sales to create a fellowship program for emerging women and gender nonbinary writers of color – people like me who may be experiencing similar hardship in finding their foot in the door in this industry.

I specifically chose Straw Dog Writers Guild to host this program as not only do they support writers of all stages, they have welcomed me and my work with open arms helping me to get the exposure my labor of love has deserved for so long. Under Straw Dog’s auspices, I’ve been a featured reader at open mics and have served as an MC for several events including Voices for Resistance and the Dead Writers Dance – multiple opportunities to have my work finally heard.

We will be hosting our first fellow in 2020. This program, which will run 12 months, will occur on a biennial basis. We will recruit applicants from all four counties, those represented by Straw Dog membership: Berkshire, Franklin, Hampshire, and Hampden.

With the intent of meeting the needs of the fellow and their current writing goals, we will provide mentors to assist with craft and other guidance on the business of the industry. The fellow will also receive a stipend and will have access to a one-week residency at Patchwork Farm. At the conclusion of the year, the fellow will share their work during a public reading.

We would love your support! There are several ways to get involved in this initiative. Through volunteering as a mentor or making a financial contribution, you will have an opportunity to get in on the ground level of supporting a groundbreaking program in Western Massachusetts. You can either make a direct donation to the Emerging Writers’ Fellowship Fund or purchase one of my CDs through Straw Dog as I will continue donating proceeds to this cause. We anticipate opening the application submission process in early August and will announce our first fellow by November.

I would like to personally thank everyone who has contributed thus far to this program and to those who will give in the near future. It means a lot to have the support of my community in embracing our next generation of writers.


Nicole M. Young is a performer, poet, playwright, director, producer, and musician with over 20 years of experience as a practicing artist. Nicole has worked across various disciplines, including theatre, poetry, and classical music. Originally from Detroit, Michigan, Nicole currently resides in Western Massachusetts.

?Nicole recently released her debut spoken word album, In/Put:  Live from the Valley, which was recorded at CLICK Workspace in Northampton, MA in 2018.  Proceeds from the album will be used to create a fellowship program for emerging women and nonbinary writers of color through Straw Dog Writers Guild.

In/Put:  Live from the Valley includes performance poetry that explores the challenges of being a Single, Black, Plus Size woman in a rural yet popular college town.  Autobiographical in nature, In/Put is a self-reflexive journey on how dating can influence and inform the ways you see yourself and the world around you.  In/Put was recorded during a live performance at CLICK Workspace (Northampton, MA) and is a self-produced project.

Purchase In/Put:  Live from the Valley now!

?Available for digital download on iTunes and CDBaby.

Listen to it now on Amazon Music.