Columns > Published on December 28th, 2015

8 Literary Charities That Need Your Help

'Tis the season for selfless gestures. While many charities see an influx of donations and volunteers during the holidays, that attention tends to taper off after New Year's. If you find yourself sitting bored by the fireside this winter, consider lending a hand somewhere. Here we have a mixture of opportunities through groups run by and made for writers, whether they're poets, journalists, screenwriters, or novelists. Some have been around for decades while others formed more recently to fill a perceived vacuum. They all focus on spreading literacy or helping people tell a story that desperately needs to be told.

1. The Pilcrow Foundation

The Pilcrow Foundation's mission is to provide grants to underfunded, rural libraries. They also assist with natural disaster relief for institutions that have been hit by tornadoes, hurricanes, or floods. Independent libraries as well as Native American Tribal libraries are encouraged to apply for aid. Their site doesn't offer much in the way of volunteer opportunities, but you can make a donation here

2. PEN American Center

While many charities see an influx of donations and volunteers during the holidays, that attention tends to taper off after New Year's.

PEN is an organization that defends writers against persecution for their work. They suggest that an easy way to help is to share information about some of their high-priority cases in order to bring them additional attention. For working writers or MFA students looking to donate time instead of money, the PEN American Center also has a program where mentors offer constructive criticism on the work of prison inmates. Check their website for a full list of programs.

3. 826 National

826 National is a nonprofit that was founded in 2002 by author Dave Eggers. Through writing workshops, tutoring, and field trips, their goal is to provide education and support to under-resourced students. There are currently seven chapters across the US, including Boston, New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles. Look into volunteering at the chapter closest to you here.

4. Children's Literacy Initiative

There are many wonderful charities that specifically target children's literacy; too many to fit all of them in this article. Children's Literacy Initiative scores highly on Charity Navigator for transparency and accountability, making it a pretty solid bet for a well-placed donation.

5. The Afghan Women's Writing Project

AWWP provides women with secure online workshops and mentorship through experienced educators and writers. It's a place where they can hone their skills and develop ideas free from filtration and judgment. AWWP also brings laptops, books, and other tools to Taliban-controlled parts of Afghanistan. Their website gives an operational cost of $2,500 per year for every woman enrolled. Consider leaving a donation, or read about other ways to volunteer.  

6. Girls Write Now

Their website provides a pretty succinct mission statement: “Girls Write Now mentors underserved young women to find their voices through the power of writing and community.” GWN is located in New York City, where overcrowded and underfunded classrooms cause delayed graduation and surprisingly low writing proficiency rates. Since its founding in 1998, Girls Write Now has been recognized by the President's Committee on the Arts and Humanities. They're no longer accepting applications for 2015-2016 mentors, but their application process opens up again in April. You can make monetary donations and learn about fundraising here.

7. International Network of Street Papers

The International Network of Street Papers is a collective of publications across the world designed to provide income and jobs to the homeless. There are at least 20 street papers in the US alone, and INSP has a global readership of six million. They accept articles as donations and look for volunteers with backgrounds in journalism and translation. Find out more about how to get involved here.

8. Scenarios

Scenarios is a youth activism group that uses writing and film to investigate social issues like domestic violence, race, and sexuality. Winners of their writing contests are paired with a professional directors to make short films. One of their 2015 winners, House Not Home, follows the life of a gender fluid African American teenager. You can purchase the finished films here, or learn about volunteering, donations, and hosting a screening here.

If you need confirmation that there's still some good in this world, Mr. Frodo, just Google literary charities and you'll see why this list could include only a limited selection. If there's an organization you don't see here but know is making an impact, feel free to give a shout in the comments.

About the author

Leah Dearborn is a Boston-based writer with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a master’s degree in international relations from UMass Boston. She started writing for LitReactor in 2013 while paying her way through journalism school and hopping between bookstore jobs (R.I.P. Borders). In the years since, she’s written articles about everything from colonial poisoning plots to city council plans for using owls as pest control. If it’s a little strange, she’s probably interested.

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