Lesson No. 4: The Collage Essay






By now you should be familiar with the concept of juxtaposition and the different types of purposes it serves for a variety of lyric essays. The collage essay, in essence, is the epitome of what it means to juxtapose. Forget transitions. Forget strands. Forget narrative arc (if you haven’t already done so by now). And forget explanations. Collage essays make the reader think, make her interact with the text so she can complete the story herself. It’s a blast being on the reader end of a collage essay, though it is thrilling to be the one who wrote it. This dynamic is the core of a collage essay—a collaboration of sorts. 

That said, if you just throw a bunch of random fragments together, then a meaning might not be made. With collage essays, the organization is key to writing a successful essay. If I write “The picture frame is blue” and then “where did the reindeer go?” you might react to that juxtaposition with WTF?!? However, if I write “The picture frame is blue” and then “The cracked glass of the sky” you might not know the full meaning yet, but you at least have two fragments that can speak to each other, even if it’s just a teensy bit. 

Recap: reader does work, writer doesn’t confuse reader too much, juxtaposition must be perfect. Any way you shuffle those rules around, you’re still going to have a terrific collage essay, a whole and complete thing composed of many different interacting parts. 



  1. How do you think a collage essay is different from a braided essay?
  2. What are some of the repeating images and themes in Brenda Miller’s “Basha Leah?” And what about David Shiedls’s “42 Tattoos?” Other than tattoos, what is his essay about and what are the images/themes that drive it?
  3. Why do you think Miller and Shields used the collage form for their essays? Do you think a different structure would have worked better? Why or why not?
  4. What are other life experiences or topics you think could best be told using the collage essay format? 


Writing Exercises

  1. This first exercise has 4 parts to it. I suggest spending at least 5 minutes writing for each section.
    1. Write about your first love as if it was a newspaper article
    2. Write a synopsis of a work meeting in the same way that you wrote in your diary as a kid.
    3. Write a love letter to a newspaper.
    4. Create an outline that speaks to how you are emotionally invested in your writing
  2. Make 3 different lists: religion, relationships, and rebirth. For each topic write down 5 objects, people, or places that remind you of that theme. Write for at least 5 minutes for each list bringing those elements into the writing.
  3. Choose 10 important people in your life and write their names down on some paper. Cut up the paper so that each name is its own slip of paper. Shuffle the names around and then randomly pick one. Write about that name/person for 3 minutes. Draw another name and start the 3 minutes by drawing a connection between the name before it and the name you are about to write on. This might be easy for some names, but terribly hard for others. What does my second-grade piano teacher have to do with my incredibly rude landlord? Just go after it and see what happens.
  4. Write three paragraphs about your religious/spirituality beliefs. Write three paragraphs about being in high school. Cut up the paragraphs and re-arrange them so they speak to each other.


Weekly Deadlines

  • Saturday at 6pm:
    • All readings are to be completed
    • At least one discussion response posted in the forum below
  • Sunday at 6pm:
    • Weekly draft of essay(s) (no more than 1000 words total) posted in the forum below
  • Tuesday at 6pm
    • Chelsey will respond with feedback


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