Erin Gruwell

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Erin Gruwell
Gruwell in 2015
Born (1969-08-15) August 15, 1969 (age 54)
EducationUniversity of California, Irvine (BA)
California State University, Long Beach (MA)
Occupation(s)Executive Director at the Freedom Writers Foundation, Educator, Author, Social Activist, Podcaster
Scott Casey[1]
(m. 1990; div. 1994)

Erin Gruwell (born August 15, 1969) is an American teacher known for her unique teaching method, which led to the publication of The Freedom Writers Diary: How a Teacher and 150 Teens Used Writing to Change Themselves and the World Around Them (1999). The 2007 film Freedom Writers and 2019 PBS documentary, Freedom Writers: Stories from the Heart, are based on her story.


Erin Gruwell was born in Glendora, California to Stephen Douglass Gruwell, a former baseball scout for the Anaheim Angels, and Sandra Faye Alley. Her parents divorced when she was still a young girl. She graduated from Bonita High School in La Verne, California, and the University of California, Irvine, where she received the Lauds and Laurels Distinguished Alumni Award. She earned her master's degree and teaching credentials from California State University, Long Beach, where she was honored as Distinguished Alumna by the School of Education.

Gruwell originally intended to go to law school to become a lawyer rather than a teacher. After watching the 1992 Los Angeles riots on news coverage, she decided to change her profession to a teacher because she believed educating students could make more of a difference. She reasoned, "I thought, God, by the time you're defending a kid in the courtroom, the battle's already lost. I think that the real fighting should happen here, in the classroom."[2]


Gruwell began student teaching in 1994 at Woodrow Wilson High School in Long Beach, California. She was assigned low-performing students in the school. One student, a boy named Sharaud, had recently transferred to Wilson from a rival high school where he had allegedly threatened his teacher with a gun.[3] However, a few months into the school year, one of her other students passed a note depicting Sharaud (an African American) with large lips. Gruwell told her students that it was drawings like that which led to the Holocaust. When one of her students asked her what the Holocaust was, she was met by uncomprehending looks—none of her students had heard of one of the defining moments of the 20th century.[3][4] Gruwell took the students to see Schindler's List, bought new books out of her own pocket and invited guest speakers.[5]

After her year of student teaching, Gruwell returned to Wilson as a full teacher, this time with a class of sophomores. Her fall semester got off to a rocky start due to student protests of Proposition 187. But Gruwell persevered and reached her students by asking them to keep journals and make movies of their lives, and by relating the family feud in Romeo and Juliet to a gang war.[3] She also had the students read books written by and about other teenagers in times of war, such as The Diary of a Young Girl, Zlata's Diary and Night.[6] Writing journals became a solace for many of the students, and because the journals were shared anonymously, teenagers who once refused to speak to someone of a different race became like a family.[4]

In the fall of 1995, Gruwell gave each of her students a bag full of new books and had them make a toast for change.[3][5] After that, she saw a turnaround in them. All 150 Freedom Writers graduated from high school and many went on to attend college.[7]

Between 1994 and 1998, the Freedom Writers garnered a great deal of media coverage, including appearances on Primetime Live, The View and Good Morning America.[8]

After teaching[edit]

In 1998, after teaching for only four years, Gruwell left Wilson High School and became a Distinguished Teacher in Residence at California State University, Long Beach. Gruwell later went on to start the Freedom Writers Foundation, which aspires to spread the Freedom Writers method across the country.[8]

The Freedom Writers Diary is a 1999 book written by the Freedom Writers with intros by Erin Gruwell. It is the basis of the 2007 movie Freedom Writers, starring Hilary Swank as Gruwell, and Gruwell is the subject of the 2019 PBS Documentary, Freedom Writers: Stories from the Heart.

She has written an autobiographical account of her experiences, entitled Teach with Your Heart: Lessons I Learned from the Freedom Writers, published around the same time as the movie's release.

She has also worked regularly with the Anti-Defamation League, the USC Shoah Foundation, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, and even the U.S. State Department, to promote religious tolerance.[9]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Freedom Writers (2007) Trivia". IMdB. Retrieved 14 August 2021.
  2. ^ Freedom Writers Diary Movie Questions Essay[permanent dead link]
  3. ^ a b c d Freedom Writers; Erin Gruwell (1999). The Freedom Writers Diary. New York: Broadway Books. pp. 2–5. ISBN 0-385-49422-X.
  4. ^ a b "The freedom writers: some considered her class a lost cause, but in her first year of teaching, Erin Gruwell challenged her students to become a community of writers". Instructorrr. November–December 2004. Archived from the original on 2007-05-23. Retrieved 2007-01-08.
  5. ^ a b Erin Gruwell - Freedom Writers Movie - The Real Story
  6. ^ McGhee, Tom (2008-02-27). """Freedom Writers" tale inspires students"". Retrieved 2008-03-26.
  7. ^ "The Book". Freedom Writers Foundation. Archived from the original on 2007-01-15. Retrieved 2007-01-08.
  8. ^ a b "About Erin Gruwell". Freedom Writers Foundation. Archived from the original on 2007-01-10. Retrieved 2007-01-08.
  9. ^ Schwarz, Alison (October 7, 2023). "Erin Gruwell to Speak at Oct. 14 Event of National Council of Jewish Women". Detroit Jewish News. Retrieved June 25, 2023.

External links[edit]