Mission Accomplished: Michelle Sewell’s GirlChild Press
Former social worker uses the power of words to help women and girls in need
Wednesday, January 6, 2010
by Lisa Rose
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What does a master’s degree in Social Work have to do with starting a publishing company? Everything!
Michelle Sewell worked with children and families for 15 years. Each year, she became more and more stressed and burned out. So in the summer of 2004, Sewell got out!
“I decided to take a sabbatical and explore the creative aspects of my life in a more full-time way,” Sewell said. “I spent that summer being a touring poet and teaching writing workshops to women and girls in shelters, group homes and detention centers. By the end of the summer I was in love with the idea of providing the opportunity for women and girls to use their voices in the way they saw fit.”
Sewell was so impressed with the stories and poems of the women and girls she met that she decided to bring those voices to a broader audience. So about a year after her break, instead of returning to social work, she decided to apply for a local arts grant. She was awarded the money and used it to fund a local anthology.
“But once I put the call for submissions online, the anthology became…an international anthology.” she said.
After nine months of hard work, Sewell finished “Growing Up Girl: An Anthology of Voices from Marginalized Spaces.” The anthology features writers from the Philippines, Canada, Australia, England, and across the United States.
“The excellent reception the book received put me on the road for a year, touring bookstores, recreational centers, and universities,” she said. “During that year, I decided to formalize GirlChild Press and commit to publishing the work of girls and women (on) a regular basis.”
Sewell publishes girls and women because she doesn’t “believe women writers are given the same attention from the publishing world. Not enough eclectic voices are allowed in print and what is printed is not a representation of the brilliance and creativity that women writers bring to the table."
“Historically, women’s access to learning (reading and writing) was barred by others and then their writings were not taken seriously, sometimes forcing them to take on male pseudonyms to get their work in print (i.e. The Bronte Sisters or Louisa May Alcott). People might say that practice is a thing of the past, but you only have to look at the writer of the hugely successful “Harry Potter” series to find an example of a woman (who) was forced to use a gender neutral name—J.K. Rowlings—to get the respect of the entire literary world,” she continued.
The next project and final anthology in the “girl” trilogy is “Woman’s Work: The Short Stories,” which is a collection of short stories by 40 girl and women writers.
“As always the work is eclectic and daring,” Sewell said. “The voices are unique and their stories are filtered through extraordinary life experiences. I am really excited about this project.”
GirlChild Press received more than 300 submissions for the project, which made it difficult to choose only 40 writers.
“I really try to focus on new writers or writers who have a unique story to tell,” she said. “Having an extensive publishing resume doesn’t necessarily guarantee that your work will be included in the collection. In many ways I am looking for 40 different experiences that my readers can identify with but are also foreign to them—tricky.”
The publishing company is also planning to release its first single author project. Sonya Renee Taylor is an award-winning, international slam poet. The projected release date is late fall 2010.
“She is zany, provocative, smart and progress,” she said. “I am extremely honored to have the opportunity to publish her first poetry collection.”
In 2011, Sewell will release a parenting handbook geared to growing smart and strong girls and will be written by two licensed social workers.
Although Sewell is excited about her new venture and upcoming projects, the realities of the recession and the decline in the book publishing industry are sinking in. She has had to rethink how she markets books.
“Sales keep us alive,” she said. “As I prepare to release the next anthology, Woman’s Work: The Short Stories, I am looking to universities and colleges, book groups, sororities, online groups, designated women’s spaces and organizations to get the book out to the same audiences that might be lost because the book maybe on fewer shelves. I will also continue to use the web, social networking, YouTube, and our vast and growing database to get the word out regarding the book and the press.”
To learn more about Sewell and GirlChild Press' writing projects, visit www.girlchildpress.com. You can also contact her directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.