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Women Who Tell Our Stories: Rooftop Writers in Naples, Italy

31 March 2023
History is full of women who share the stories that inform communities and inspire generations. The stories told are the inspiration behind the 2023 theme of Women’s History Month (WMH), “Celebrating Women Who Tell Our Stories.”
For centuries, popular female storytellers were those with large scale publications like Anne Frank, whose diary documenting Nazi persecution has been used to tell the story of the Holocaust for generations. Or Bell Hooks, American author who is famous for her portfolio that spoke out against racism, classism and antifeminism.

Today, the women who tell our stories come in all forms to include bloggers, writers, painters, graphic designers and social media influencers.

Here in Naval Support Activity (NSA) Naples, our stories are being voiced by a local group, “Rooftop Writers in Naples, Italy.”

The collection of writers was founded by Paige Ladd to create a space for writers to share their pieces.

Members Gunner’s Mate 1st Class Lauren Hampton Dennis, Jessica Ursell, and Paige Ladd sat down with Naval Support Activity Naples’ Public Affairs to share their experiences in honor of WMH.

Writer 1: Gunner's Mate 1st Class Lauren Hampton Dennis (Charleston, South Carolina)

Q: How long have you been writing?
A: Since I’ve been able to hold a pen (childhood). My earliest memories of writing were of creating comic books with my older brother and writing letters to my father and uncles when they were on deployment.

Q: What is your inspiration for writing?
A: I value great storytelling. The storyteller who inspired me the most was Rod Sterling, the creator of The Twilight Zone. I watched The Twilight Zone television series, spinoffs, and movie when I was a kid and immediately became enamored with Sterling’s ability to provoke so many different emotions in his audience. I am inspired by observations of people, our society, my own experiences, music, true crime, folklore, religion, and random people I meet while traveling.

Q: Can you tell me a story about your experience with writing?
A: Recently, the professor of my Creative Writing for Social Media course wrote me a personal email saying that based on how well my discussion posts have been, they were looking forward to reading how creative my final project was going to be. Not willing to disappoint, my final project, which was a social media audit of the company Fright Rags, was creepy, funny, and thorough. All of which are on brand for me. I wrote my professor back and let them know how much their email meant to me.

Q: How does it make you feel?
A: It made me feel validated and motivated to keep writing. Many people don’t take writing or creativity very serious. They think creative careers are something that anyone can do, even though they’ve never tried. These movies, these TV shows, these podcast, etc. that we all go in droves to see, those were written by someone who has an imagination that is out of this world. So out of this world that they created a new world that we all clearly find entertaining. That’s what I am doing, creating a world one story at a time that will live well past me.

Q: What do you hope people see through your writing?
A: I want people to talk to each other. I want people to see a point of view that isn’t their own. I hope that past the laughs and scares, that my audience will stop and think how my story can change their perspective for the better.

Writer 2: Jessica Ursell, Manhattan, New York
Q: How long have you been writing?
A: I’ve been writing poetry and brief opinion pieces as time permits for the past eight years. Recently I have been able to focus more time and attention on my writing, and have been fortunate to connect with other writers in Napoli and New York so that we can support one another in our writing endeavors.

Q: What is your inspiration for writing?
A: As a Jewish veteran of the United States Air Force, I have been horrified to see the rampant spread of virulent antisemitism, racism, and bigotry throughout the United States and globally. That should be terrifying to everyone who values democracy - not just Jews and minority populations. The increase in overt bigotry is what inspired me to share my story of standing up to hatred and bullies whoever and wherever they might be. Speaking truth to power and never ever being a bystander are essential in a free society. When I confronted the Princess of a Southeast Asian country and her bodyguard in Anne Frank‘s house in Amsterdam that is exactly what I was doing. You can read about that in my essay, “Standing Up for the Voiceless: My Fight with Royalty in Anne Frank’s House.”

Q: Can you tell me a story about your experience with writing? How does it make you feel? What do you hope people see through your writing?

A: It is vitally important to me to never be a bystander to hatred, bigotry, and prejudice in whatever forms they occur. My mother who immigrated to the United States from the foothills of the Himalayan Mountains and my South Bronx born Puerto Rican Jewish father ensured that I grew up knowing the value of diverse voices. Writing makes me feel like I can reach people by sharing my own experiences, and being a voice for the voiceless.

Q: What is your favorite part about writing?
A: My favorite part about writing is the connection it brings with other people. I am the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors, Soviet gulags, and a descendant of a Taíno great-grandma, so I understand in my bones what happens when intolerance, indifference, and ignorance take root in society.

Q: Can you tell me a story about your favorite piece you composed?
A: One of the most gratifying experiences I’ve had was the reaction to my first essay for The Jewish Writing Project, “At the Country Club with Superman,” published in July 2022. The feelings I had as a young teenager, shocked by the totally unexpected words from a person I thought was a friend, apparently touched so many people. Scores of comments from Jews and non-Jews alike, describing how much my experience resonated and how awful it is to be treated like “the other” showed me the importance of writing and how it can build bridges and bring people together. That is what I hope to continue to do with my writing.

Writer 3: Paige Ladd, Phoenix, Arizona
Q: How long have you been writing?
A: I started just after college—so since my 20s. I have worked as an editor ever since college. I own a business that provides editing services for those who want to self-publish.

Q: What is your inspiration for writing?
A: Mostly it’s what makes me laugh. I have inspiration for things that make me angry—I do that as well. But I think we are all serious enough and sad enough—so my writing is hopefully going to make someone laugh.

Q: What do you want people to feel?
A: I want them to feel like—because my characters are having such ridiculous problems, I want them to feel like first of all my life is okay. Second of all, that would never happen—give them a reality check.

Q: Can you tell me about your experience with writing? How does it make you feel? What do you hope people see through your writing?
A: I’ll tell you why I love to write funny stories. There was this time when we adopted this basset hound. The pound had a basset, we got the basset, took it home—it turned out to be totally psychotic. It was attacking our children and barking aggressively, even at me and my husband. We did not appreciate that. Of course, this doesn’t mean that the basset wasn’t totally adorable. I mean, I liked it. But because we were raising little kids, we had to get rid of it.
I was grieving over the dog. I had it out of my life for about two or three months and I realized—wait a minute, everything that the dog wanted to do would’ve been totally appropriate if it was human. So, the next novel that I wrote was about what would happen if a human soul got stuck in a basset and had to get its family to realize it was their soul in the basset.
Everything turns out the way it should be in the end—it’s just goofy on the way there.

Q: What is your favorite part about writing?
A: My favorite part is producing the first draft of anything because that is the fun part. You get to tell a story and you are not worried about punctuation and marketing it.
Whether writing to stand up for others, to create a comedic experience, or to create dialogue, Dennis, Ursell and Ladd are “Women Who Tell Our Stories”.

NSA Naples is an operational ashore base that enables U.S., allied, and partner nation forces to be where they are needed, when they are needed to ensure security and stability in the European, African, and Central Command areas of responsibility.
For more news on NSA Naples, please follow us on Instagram @NSANaples and Facebook at

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