With Scholarship Support, Writers Make Discoveries at Writing Through Trauma In-Community Retreat

May 17, 2024 | Minds & Bodies, Scholarship Stories

With scholarship support from Hawthornden Foundation and Rebecca Dykes Writers, Mitu Malhotra, Jess Rinker, Ashley Wilda (Ash), Celia W. Seupel and J.H. Ahn were able to attend Writing Through Trauma to Empower Readers: A Working In-Community Retreat for Storytellers. “THANK YOU. There aren’t words for how much this experience saved and uplifted me, both creatively and personally,” Ash shared. And Celia says “I hope that my book will help someone someday, but I am sure I could not have written it without the support and validation this workshop gave me.”

Mitu’s Story

Mitu Malhotra holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. She is the 2021 winner of the Katherine Paterson Prize for Literature for Young Adults and Children. Her stories are inspired by Indian culture, ancient myths and historical events. In previous avatars, she was a textile and fashion designer. Mitu studied textiles at the National Institute of Design in Ahmedabad. Then received a degree in fashion from the National Institute of Fashion Technology in New Delhi. She has taught fashion illustration in India, the Middle East and the US. When she is not writing, Mitu paints, sews, and builds miniature dollhouses out of recycled materials. She is an active member of SCBWI and CBIG. 

Mitu says “This retreat allowed me to reconnect with my buried trauma and help process it and channel it into a positive direction via writing. By being in community with other cancer survivors and writers handling challenging personal circumstances, we were able to hold healing space for each other. Azra Rahim shared a Sufi circle of drumming and breathing exercises that was invigorating and special. This experience will remain with me for a long time. Thank you for this opportunity…I learned to channel traumatic emotions and experiences in a thoughtful way to write for children, so that the young readers have hopeful stories of survival.”

Instagram @mituart
Bluesky @mitumalhotra.bsky.social

Photo of Mitu Malhotra (on left)
Photo of word rocks that say: wander within

Ash’s Story

Ash Wilda says “I am an Arab-American, queer, neurodivergent, disabled writer and poet living in eastern Virginia and hold an MFA from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. My debut novel THE NIGHT FOX, a YA magical realism tale about grief, mental health, and nature told in poetry and prose, was released with Rocky Pond Books at Penguin Random House on October 10th, 2023. Other recent publications include the short stories “Jericho” and “Dandelion Dreamer” and the poems “Hollow” and “Depression Diver” with Uncharted Magazine (formerly Voyage YA). When not writing, I enjoy making music (find me on Spotify) and exploring the mountains with my husband and rescue pup.”

About the retreat, Ash says “I have been having such a difficult time in my personal life, especially in regards to mental health and trauma. My circumstances have made it really hard for me to write. Right before my workshop was about to begin, I had a retraumatizing crisis and was in a bad place. Coming to the workshop was an almost spiritual experience. I felt so supported and cared for and understood. I was with my people. And I’ve been able to write again. I cannot thank you enough for enabling this healing experience for me.”

They add, “I learned a lot about different ways we can come back to our bodies and therefore become able to write again. This was also my first introduction to narrative therapy and how we can gain insights from our past to channel into our stories in a healing manner. My books focus on mental health, especially trauma. My upcoming novel, CLEAVE, which will come out with Penguin Random House in 2026, is about family trauma and BPD. What I have learned in this course will help me write that story well, with a healing narrative arc to help kids feel both seen and hopeful for their futures.”

Instagram: @ashleywilda_

Photo of Ashley Wilda
Book cover: The Night Fox

Celia’s Story

Celia W. Seupel is a poet, journalist and author. Of the retreat, she says “It was really a wonderful experience — the space and the welcome were so warm and 100% geared toward writers, it felt very special. All of the nooks and spaces for writing and meeting with others; the food and the comfort of the rooms — these were so unusual and special. The workshop was fun, interesting and inspiring, and so were my fellow writers.”

“This experience — because it centered around trauma — was different. The whole experience went deeper and the retreat seemed like a week, not just 3 days. Again, the space and staff held me and the others with generosity and safety, with feelings of being heard and honored. The one-on-one meetings were very helpful. I learned a lot from the writing of others as well as from the presentations. And I felt very validated & able to more forward.”

Celia’s book is “about how to deal with suicidal feelings/thoughts and how to transform your life to a happier place. This subject is just hardly ever addressed for teens — it’s so fraught, and I think many people are scared of it. But for me — with all of my own unfortunate experience — this is a subject that’s front and center. For me, it’s the only really important topic to address right now.”

@CWSeupel (X)
@writing_in_the_woods (TikTok and Instagram)
@CeliaWatsonSeupel (Facebook)

photo of<br />
Celia W. Seupel

Jess’ Story

Jess Rinker is an award-winning writer who has several books for young readers including picture book biographies and middle grade fiction. Titles include Gloria Takes a Stand, a biography of feminist icon Gloria Steinem, Send a Girl!: The True Story of How Women Joined the FDNY;  middle grade novels The Dare Sisters and The Dare Sisters: Shipwrecked!, Out of Time: Lost on the Titanic, The Hike to Home and the forthcoming Monolith, a Wandering Moth Press endeavor.

Jess, was the Rebecca Dykes Writing Scholar for the retreat and recently wrote about her experience on Substack. “I’m just grateful Rebecca Dykes Writers and Highlights held us in a way that allowed some intense conversations, gentle meditation, tears, and a lot of laughter.” Read the substack.

Instagram: @jessrinkerauthor

photo of<br />
Celia W. Seupel

J.H. Ahn’s Story

She says “I am Korean American and dedicate myself to writing books that inspire, entertain, and promote a deeper understanding of others. I am the recipient of the 2024 Highlights Foundation Scholarship, 2022 Editor-Writer Mentorship. 2021 SCBWI’s BIPOC Scholarship for this novel and the 2020 SCBWI BIPOC Scholarship. I have degrees in Psychology and Child & Family Studies from Stony Brook University.”

Of the retreat, she says “It gave me an opportunity to be in a community where I can intimately learn all aspects of the industry directly from the amazing speakers and from fellow talented writers. A heartfelt thank you!” She learned “intimate details of the industry and how other writers navigate their writing and contracts…and receiving the scholarship has confirmed to me that all types of stories from all different voices need to be heard.”

Photo of J.H. Ahn

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