June 18, 2014. Prompt #48
I’ve been reading the intriguing memoir How I Became Hettie Jones. A poet, story-writer, and the first wife of Amiri Baraka, Hettie Jones offers fresh, non-glorifying insights of her Bohemian years in New York City as part of the male-dominated Beat Generation. The book’s sections have titles such as Morton Street, Twentieth Street and Cooper Square, all neighborhoods in New York. For today’s prompt, we’ll look at your own personal history of streets and neighborhoods.
- Choose a street or neighborhood from your past. It may be one in which you lived or one you frequently visited. (Feel free to work with a fictional setting as well. It may strengthen your overall story, novel or poem.)
- For 10 minutes, write down words and short phrases that come to mind when you think of this home or neighborhood. Try to include a variety of recollections — from physical descriptions, to the people who frequented the area, to your state of mind when living there. In addition to the who, what, where, try to catch the vibe of this time in your life. For instance, if I chose my my second home in Boulder, I might write: University Avenue 23 years old. Intermittent irrigation ditch. Worn oak floors. Four housemates. Minimum wage job. Endless notes plastered on the refrigerator. Walking the neighborhood that first summer evening, enchanted, alive. A time of great possibility.
- Read what you’ve written and circle three phrases that stand out for you.
- Write one of those phrases on top of a new piece of paper. Write in response to it for 20 minutes.
- Describe how the home’s physical appearance mirrored or contradicted your experience there.
- Write about your neighborhood during two different seasons or during two distinct time periods.
Variation for Writing Groups
- Walk together in a neighborhood for a half hour, making notes of what you see and hear there. Bring in sensory detail, noting overall impressions and specific details, such as a red door, a broken branch, a water glass left on a stoop, a tricycle in a driveway, a woman weeding a patch of day lilies.
- Write a short, fictional account of an interaction of two people (or perhaps a person and an animal) in the neighborhood. Write for 20 minutes.
Reminder: Next Week
Two of next week’s prompts will focus on editing and revision. To prepare, find a story, poem, or essay to revisit. You can use a rough draft or a polished piece with which you are willing to experiment.