- “Place” by Dorothy Allison
- “Going Home” by Margot Kahn
- “Villa Augusta” by Jo McDougall
- “Blue” (selection) by Kathleen Norris
DISCUSSION & QUESTIONS
More than just a setting, a place is a part of us and is a character in our own stories. The house I grew up in was not just on Kearny Street, but my mother painted clouds on the ceiling of my bedroom that I stared up at every morning. The clouds always made me feel safe and happy—peaceful, even—in my bed. Even when my father yelled at my mother each morning about how weak the coffee tasted, those clouds were there to drift me away from the chaos going on in the kitchen. That place is not just where I lived, but it is a part of me.
Place in a story is where and how we reach out to the reader, grab a hold of her hand, and welcome her into our story. She can stand next us, see what we see, feel what the place feels like to us. If when we write we think of place as more than just a setting or a backdrop for our stories, but as an actual and active facet of our stories, then we can begin to create our narrator’s characteristics in relation to that place. We add another layer to the essay, one more element that adds to the life of the piece.
- Dorothy Allison describes how generally recognizable places (such as New York City, Southerners, people from the Chicago projects) are places that “are all assumed to share the same food and the same language. Their place is a given” (6). But, Allison continues, “if you’re from a place that no one knows, you have to invent it on the page.” When describing a place on the page, how much do you/should you rely on the easily identifiable aspects of that place verses bringing a new language to a well-known place? In other words, when we write about place regardless of what type of place we are writing about, how much can or should we rely on stereotypes of a place? Does using stereotypes (such as fast talking and rude New Yorkers) weaken the description of the place or allow us to make an easy statement so we can quickly move on to a different description?
- How do Margot Kahn and Jo McDoucall invite the reader into their place?
- If setting is its own type of character in a story, then how does the description of place in Kathleen Norris’ short chapter function as a character in the scene? What is the emotional feel of that place?
WEEKLY WRITING PROMPTS
- Think of a familiar room from your childhood. “Enter” into it through your memory. Do this slowly. As you enter into the room, describe everything that you see. What objects are on the shelves or what kind of locks are on the windows? Is there a picture of your family hanging on the wall? Is there a light layer of dust on the mantel? Really enter into the space and stay there for the whole 10 minutes, writing out every little detail you can remember. (Optional: if you want to continue with this prompt, write for another 10 minutes about the sensory details of the room. What did it smell like? What did the fabric of the chair feel like?)
- Go to a place you have always wanted to go. Maybe the coffee shop across town or that particular mom-and-pop diner that smells like bacon when you walk by it. Bring your notebook with you and make notes of what you see and experience. Not full sentences, just a list of what you observe. What are the people wearing? What background sounds are there? When you get home, put your list away and wait a day. The next day, without looking at your notes, write for 10 minutes about that place. Describe what you saw, what it felt like, what was most noticeable. After the 10 minutes, compare your notes to your short essay. How are they different? What stuck out both times?
- Make a list of three places you have visited. Spend three minutes on each place, describing what the place is not. Really create a sense of that place by describing what the place does not consist of. For the final sentence, make a short, declarative and descriptive statement about what the place is starting with “(name of place) is none of these things. No, this place is ________.”
Turn in one of the prompts you did for this week. Do not worry about editing it. Just write it, read over it once to catch any typos and any glaring grammatical errors, then submit it. This essay should be under 500 words. Also, take one of the essays you worked last week and continue to revise it. You can add to this essay if you choose to, though the piece you submit should be under 700 words. (Optional: if you made any further revisions to the expanded and/or edited flash piece from last week, you can submit it again for final comments).