Lost to Found: Interview with Margherita Sgorbissa, founder of Women Writing Lab Berlin

Updated: Oct 26, 2018

See the intro to this series here.

Margherita Sgorbissa decided to make her home in Berlin after many visits as a teen and young adult. Lucky for the city’s numerous women writers, Sgorbissa also brought her experience teaching writing workshops in Italy with her to her new home. What started as a simple goal to bring women together to share their stories has evolved into a thriving community for those seeking to sharpen their writing skills and connect with others.

Photo by Elif Okay
Photo by Elif Okay

Photo by Elif Okay

When did you come to Berlin and what brought you here initially?

My love story with Berlin began in November 2009. I was 16 and I traveled to Berlin on a school trip to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. I immediately felt in love with the underground, multicultural spirit of the city.

Eventually I graduated on July 3, 2015 and moved to Berlin on July 29, 2015. The next day I started an internship and by November I had my first full-time, long-term contract.

Things have changed a lot since that time. Berlin is still a place I can call home, but my attitude and relationship with the city [has evolved]. I had the chance to develop new interests, discover a new side of the city — not always so positive. Living in Berlin for vacation and living in Berlin as a place to settle down is completely different and it took me some time to accept it. 

One of the biggest challenges when arriving here is finding a network of friends and collaborators. Did you struggle with this? What were some moments that helped you to expand your network here?

During my many visits to the city, I happened to make some friends… I could rely on this group and enjoyed their support in my first months. However, I started working full-time and it made it difficult to have even time to create and access a wider network. I think Berlin is also a quite difficult place for friendship and long-lasting relationships. The amount of things going on and opportunities to catch is overwhelming.

I think a good tip to expand your network in Berlin is to find a place where people share common interests and activities. There are many communities that bring people with the same passion together.

When and how did the idea for WWBL come about? Could you tell me about the stages of its development since then?

By the end of June 2017 I was going through a quite stressful time here. I lived in a shared flat and wasn’t that happy about it, at work things were going weirdly and I felt the need to focus more on what I truly liked. Writing has always been a fundamental part of my life — it’s the way I digest and process changes and feelings — so I thought that it would be very important to find the time to dedicate myself to it again. I am not a professional writer and I don’t work in writing, but I used to lead a writing workshop back in Italy, and it was one of the best experiences ever in my life.

I decided to create a similar environment in Berlin and open this activity for women only to make sure women in Berlin could find a safe space in our community for their voices and their experiences to be heard. 

I organized our first writing lab session on July 4, 2017, and it was very successful. When we finished, Leih — my very first supporter and collaborator — told me how much potential this idea had, and she offered her help to start a more structured project: a blog, a Facebook page, and a regular calendar for meetings. Now, we have hosted more than thirty writing lab sessions, two writing workshops, a workshop during the Berlin Feminist Film Week, many female writer meetups, and we have started a new blog for women writers. 

Photo by Elif Okay

Has founding the group helped you to feel more rooted in Berlin? Do you feel that it has helped you to find your people?

Founding the group and listening to many women’s stories and voices really helped me to feel part of the city. I also feel that giving space and time to other women based here can be a precious help for others like me to find their own space and their own time to tell their stories and find connections. I feel empowered by them and I am happy that we are able to create a mutual support, without hierarchy or an extreme didactic environment: “Each One Teach One!”

Do you have any advice for new expats in Berlin in regards to reaching out and finding like-minded people to collaborate and socialize with?

INSIST! Berlin can be a bitch of a city, but it’s just a test. You don’t have to give up and don’t get discouraged by the common trends of “stop and go,” “pass by and bye bye.” Insist by looking for new spaces and new meet-up opportunities. Insist with other people: keep messaging them, work on cultivating your friendships and relationships, be ready to give and be open hearted.

Take the risk to be yourself and go out of your comfort zone — whatever it may be — and smile, chat, tell people your story and you will see how many others will find themselves in it too. Fight this trend of individualism and loneliness, take the initiative and create your own space for others to be in there! Berlin has this amazing thing of making every idea possible. You don’t need much to start: pick a café, use social media to spread the word, connect with groups online and then find the time to offline and make your own thing!

Do you have any advice for other newcomers who are considering starting their own projects?

Start with low expectations, with a small group, be authentic and don’t expect everyone to like you. You will have a specific and beloved target audience and you will catch the attention of people that you want to be on board. If you work authentically, if you put your effort and your open heart to what you have in your head, then you will be able to reach and welcome a lot of people and create an unique space for others to learn and experience something new. This can never be a bad thing, so stop reading this now and GO and DO and ORGANIZE whatever you have in mind!

To see what events the WWBL team is cooking up next, visit them on Facebook at www.facebook.com/wearewwbl. You can also read the WWBL blog and submit to their forthcoming magazine by going to www.wearewwbl.com.