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Interview

  • GirlSpring.com, Interview, Shero, Sheroes, work

    Shero Debra Des Vignes, Indiana Prison Writers Workshop

    Debra Vignes photo

    We are always on the lookout for Sheroes and stumbled across Debra Des Vignes and this very cool program and wanted to share!

    1) Can you explain in layman’s terms what exactly is the Indiana Prison Writers Workshop?
    Indiana Prison Writers Workshop is a not-for-profit whose mission is to improve the lives of those incarcerated through creative writing and expression. Through a 12-week curriculum volunteer instructors provide 15-minute writing prompts to prisoners on a range of topics and themes and share prose by literary greats like Langston Hughes, Mark Twain, and Maya Angelou. Each workshop includes discussion of the elements of writing and offenders read their work aloud and hear constructive criticism on their work. In between weekly classes, offenders spend time on bigger writing assignments. The goal is for them to use their critical-thinking skills and gain greater empathy by understanding differences through stories and experiences.


    2) How did you get into this line of work?
    I became interested in working with this underserved population after volunteering at a correctional facility. It was there that I could see the true power of words. I believed it could be transformative and healing for the men. And so, I began the creative writing workshop in October 2017, and was able to spend one-year working with the same group of offenders each week. It became a safe space. Since then, the program has spread into three Indiana correctional facilities – in partnership with Indiana Department of Correction – and my support team includes three talented and dedicated writing volunteers – who also bring in monthly guests such as poets, rappers, and community leaders. And while I no longer lead group workshops, I support the volunteers under the program who do and help share the written work produced in their classrooms.


    3) What has been the most positive outcome of this experience for the participants?
    To learn that people do believe in them and to see their achievements come out in the stories they write. We had one offender write a novel in prison and gave credit to the workshop for accomplishing this. I enjoy engaging with program followers who view the prisoners as talented and creative beings.

    4) What has been the most rewarding part of it for you?
    To see the glimmer of hope in a man’s eyes after he’s written or expressed something challenging or difficult to write about. To know these men can re-write their own life’s script. To watch a man leave the program better equipped to face the world.


    5) What is your advice to girls who may have parents that are incarcerated – in terms of forgiveness?

    Stay strong, but also find forgiveness and understanding in your heart. We all make mistakes; some are greater than others. Write about your pain or talk to someone.

    Debra Vignes Photo

    6) Do you feel like you are personally ever at risk working with inmates?
    No, they treat me with respect. It means a lot to them to be accepted.


    7) What is your advice to girls who want to pursue non-traditional fields?
    Follow the path you are most interested in and know that it’s OK to change the direction of your life at any time. Complacency is foreign to me. There’s risk in pursuing something new. Oftentimes, the things we’re most passionate about take us out of our comfort zone. It did for me. There was a lot of discomfort and growing pains until it evened out and I started to believe in my own work and see the value in it. Go all in! An offender once told me, “Go big or go home.” He was referring to a decision to get a tattoo – but you see my point. When I “went big” and started building the prison creative writing program – that’s when things really started to change for me. At first, I tried to run the program while holding down a full-time job. I’m also a wife, mother, and a boxer. I realized I couldn’t do it all. This must be a challenge all creatives face at some point as they enter a new space. It takes a good deal of inner-strength, grit, and perseverance. One may get disapproving eyes and/or feel the weight of making enough money. But know, we need more creatives in the world. We desperately need these game-changers.

    A woman with drive is a strong woman.
    A woman who remains playful and focused is a strong woman.

    Nigerian Poet Ben Okri in his book, “A Way of Being Free” wrote: “The artist should never lose the spirit of play. It is curious how sometimes the biggest tasks are best approached tangentially, with a smile in the soul.”

    8) Did you ever see yourself doing this when you were in high school?
    No. In high school I had no direction. I had no clear path, vision, or goal of what my future would look like. I was sort of a rebel. I was fortunate that in college (California State University Northridge) I was selected as an apprentice at ABC-7 News, a television news station in Los Angeles. It was there that my love for journalism began. I went on to work as a Television news reporter for a decade covering the crime and courts beat at different stations around the country. In a way, I was destined to do this work; to help offenders prepare for re-entry through writing – having covered crime for so long. You can’t break the cycle unless you head into the ring.

    — Find Indiana Prison Writers Workshop on Facebook to learn of activities, happenings, and events and also read stories written by offenders.


    — Read their stories in a book I just published, Sunday Sweet Sunday, available on Amazon.


    — Find us at inprisonwritersworkshop.org

  • GirlSpring.com, Interview

    This Shero Went From Art School to the Air Force!

    This Shero
    In life, we never really know where our paths will take us.

    It is common to begin in one direction then reroute. Deciding to explore the unknown leads to new opportunities.

    Enter Helena Urban, our newest Shero.
    Air Force Shero

    Helena is very familiar with this predicament and GirlSpring had the opportunity to sit down with her and discuss life’s many pathways.

    Air Force Shero

    Helena was adopted from China on Valentine’s Day. This is when her journey began. As an only child, Helena says she was always in search of something attention-grabbing. “Being an only child, I really found the time to be creative and do stuff with my hands”, she recounts.

    Air Force Shero

    Helena remembers a time she got in trouble for writing her name in chalk on her bedroom wall. “They got me a sketchbook after that to prevent that from happening again”, she laughs. From there, Helena’s creativity blossomed. She was enrolled in the Alabama School of Fine Arts (ASFA) so that she could better develop her craft.

    Helena first heard of ASFA from a friend of her mom’s. The friend described it as the “best unknown high school for the arts”.

    “When I was shadowing another student, I witnessed ASFA’s diversity. The variety in courses proved this was the school for me”, she says.
    Air Force Shero

    At ASFA, Helena was exposed to a variety of art forms. From sketching to dancing to sculpting, I was really drawn to sculpting,” Helena says, “because it allowed me to work with my hands.” Creating pieces that are often about adoption and using a variety of Chinese symbols, she is able to illustrate her life journey thus far. Never in her life, however, did Helena think that the military would enter the plan.

    After graduating from her small class of 52 students in 2018, Helena had a repetitive thought. How does one pay for college? “I was really set on the University of South Alabama and was looking for a way to pay for it. A recruiter from the military had reached out to me about joining and that initially sparked my interest,” Helena says. Her mother convinced Helena to join the Air Force and take advantage of the opportunity.

    Helena broke ground on an unknown path.

    While in the Air Force, Helena became a Structural Civil Engineer. “It revolves around welding, carpentry, and handiwork. I enjoy it because it allows me to very be involved with my hands”, she said. Although she was worried about her performance in Basic Training, Helena says the paperwork is most stressful. “There’s just so much,” she says, “and you have to remember every detail of your medical history. It’s almost like adopting a child there’s so much paperwork.” Helena also recounts the difficulty of the physical test. “It was really hard, but I discovered that the body is capable of more than you think. It’s all mental. You have to constantly tell yourself to keep going” she says.

    After Basic Training, Helena will attend UAB. She will be studying Art with a concentration in Sculpture. When asked what she hopes to gain from the Air Force, Helena replied with, “I really hope to gain confidence, a calm mind, and self-growth.” She also hopes to develop physically. Helena’s advice for girls considering a military career is to “Always be thankful – even when you don’t know why. Gratitude creates a positive environment.”

    Air Force Shero
    Thank you so much Helena Urban for talking with us and for being a Shero!
  • GirlSpring.com, Interview

    I Spent my Summer at MARVEL!

    I Spent My Summer At This Uber Cool Organization

    Spending The Summer At Marvel Comics

    An Interview With Marvel Summer Intern, Jade Stewart 

    Can you give us a little background on you, your education, and your writing experience?

    I was born in Irondale, Alabama. I’ve had a passion for art since I was a kid and started taking writing stories seriously when I became a teenager. In my spare time, I read (mainly fiction—novels, comics, graphic novels) and play video games.

    I graduated from Jefferson County International Baccalaureate High School (JCIB) in 2012 and from Loyola University New Orleans Magna Cum Laude in 2016 with a degree in English Writing (and a minor in French). Near the end of my senior year at Loyola, I was accepted to Columbia University’s MFA (Master of Fine Arts) Writing program. I began the program in the fall of 2016 and graduated in October 2018.

    My first writing experience involved writing speech bubbles for the characters I drew. When I was younger, I was more interested in drawing my stories than writing them. It wasn’t until the summer entering my sophomore year of high school that I began writing my stories. I loved every minute of it. I wrote the first draft of my novel, FATE, and its three sequels when I was 16-17 years old. In retrospect, I’m shocked I was able to write as much as I did because I had so much homework and tests to study for! It wasn’t until 2016 that I self-published FATE. Currently, I am a freelance writer for Marvel, writing articles for their website, which has been awesome. Additionally, I just completed the sequel to FATE and am looking forward to marching across the graduation stage in May 2019.

    I Spent My Summer At This Uber Cool Organization

    What made you want to pursue an internship at Marvel (besides the fact that it is super cool!), and how hard was the application process?

    I was searching for summer internships in New York that dealt with being in an editorial role. When I saw that Marvel was looking for someone to fill their New Media Editorial internship, I applied immediately. Marvel wasn’t just part of my teenage years and adulthood but my childhood as well. A couple of my childhood memories included watching reruns of the 90s Spider-Man cartoon before heading to school and watching X-Men: Evolution on Saturday mornings. (Storm was/is my favorite character.) You could say I’m a bit of a nerd.

    The application process wasn’t difficult at all. I had to upload my resume and a cover letter to be considered. It was important to have experience in editorial work and/or in narrative media. The difficult part, personally, was the interview. I was extremely nervous!

    Can you describe the internship experience at Marvel?

    During my summer at Marvel, I had the opportunity to proofread some of the character biographies for their new website as well as transcribe interviews featuring comic book writers. I was also exposed to non-editorial aspects such as sitting in on a podcast session and observing an actor from one of Marvel’s TV shows being interviewed. Additionally, I was able to interact and socialize with the other interns. Most importantly, the staff at Marvel was absolutely awesome! I was surrounded by the nicest, nerdiest people who were open to me receiving as much experience during my internship as possible.

    I Spent My Summer At This Uber Cool Organization

    What were the highlights? Did you meet anyone famous?

    Two highlights from my internship were viewing an early, private screening of Ant-Man and the Wasp and being given the responsibility to write several articles for publication during my last month there. I met Miles Mussenden, who plays the dad of one of the protagonists in Marvel’s Cloak and Dagger. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a random encounter of running into the cast of Black Panther or Chris Evans. (laughs)

    I Spent My Summer At This Uber Cool Organization

    What’s next for you?

    I was contacted by a literary agent last summer, thanks to an excerpt of my submission from the Writing program’s Thesis Anthology. She admired some of the descriptions of the manuscripts I was working on. Two of the manuscripts included my graduate thesis, Summer League, a Young Adult sci-fi story, and the sequel to FATE, which is a Young Adult fantasy story. I recently finished revising those manuscripts and emailed them to her. I look forward to having them published, especially for those frequently requesting the sequel to FATE. My dream goal is to become a professional writer/novelist, which I am working hard to achieve.

    I Spent My Summer At This Uber Cool Organization

    What is your advice to girls wanting to get into the comics industry?

    My advice to girls is to never let anyone deter you from following your dreams. Some people will think you are weird or they will try to make you prove that you are a “real fan” of comics/comic book characters. They may even say, “Comics are for boys.” It’s 2019! Pay them no attention. Write your stories. Draw your panels. Continue to work hard and strive to become the best comic book writer, illustrator, colorist, or whatever career choice you choose. The heavens are your limit.