The Time Is Now

Excursions

5.12.22

In an attempt to escape the “constellation of grief” that shrouded him in his early thirties, visual artist and writer Ben Shattuck set out on a series of journeys around New England that became the basis of his book, Six Walks: In the Footsteps of Henry David Thoreau (Tin House, 2022). The book is featured in “The Written Image” in the May/June 2022 issue of Poets & Writers Magazine along with a sample of Shattuck’s drawings from his excursions, which import a visual and emotional landscape to each individual place. This week, inspired by Shattuck’s process, take three walks outdoors throughout the week and write down as many observations as possible. Then, write an essay using these notes to create distinct sections elaborating on each outing.

Essential Labor

5.11.22

In “Can Motherhood Be a Mode of Rebellion?” an essay published in the New Yorker, Jia Tolentino writes about Essential Labor: Mothering as Social Change (Harper Wave, 2022) by Angela Garbes, a book analyzing the state of caregiving in America, and reflects on the experience of hiring a nanny for “a job so crucial and difficult that it seems objectively holy.” This week think of a job that is often unappreciated or unacknowledged and write a story from the perspective of a character who works this job. How can you render their perspective through detailed observations of the world around them?

The Raincoat

5.10.22

In Ada Limón’s poem “The Raincoat,” published in her collection The Carrying (Milkweed Editions, 2018), the speaker reflects on the experience of comfort and protection parents can offer through simple gestures like taking off a raincoat in a storm to wrap around their child or making time to drive and accompany them to doctor’s appointments. Write a poem about a time a parental figure of yours made a loving sacrifice. Think of a memory that makes you feel the way Limón does at the end of her poem: “My god, / I thought, my whole life I’ve been under her / raincoat thinking it was somehow a marvel / that I never got wet.”

Bird Day

How did you celebrate May the Fourth? Did you know it isn’t just for Star Wars fans but also for the birds? In 1894, Charles Almanzo Babcock, a school superintendent from Pennsylvania, launched the first Bird Day “in a bid to create awareness and promote the conservation of all bird species.” This week peruse the National Audubon Society’s Guide to North American Birds, which features the habitats, calls, feeding behaviors, and migration patterns of over eight hundred species of birds. Then, pick five feathered friends that stand out to you and write a section of an essay dedicated to each one. As you write, discover links beyond the germane aspects of your chosen species.

Achoo!

With cool spring weather comes allergy season, the time of year many become suffused with itchy eyes, runny noses, and relentless sneezing. This common ailment is exasperated by the rainy season and blowing winds that spread pollen, and global warming is creating an even longer pollen season, according to many published studies. Write a story in which a protagonist struggles with allergies in springtime. How will this detail carry importance in the plot’s development? For inspiration, read Anton Chekhov’s short story “The Death of a Government Clerk,” which begins with the protagonist sneezing.

Answers

In a recent installment of Ten Questions, poet Dana Levin recalls the earliest memory associated with her new book, Now Do You Know Where You Are (Copper Canyon Press, 2022): “Pacing around my sublet in Saint Louis, Fall 2015, saying out loud the words ‘No,’ ‘Yes,’ and ‘Stop’ over and over: to feel how they felt in my mouth, my throat, my chest.” Included in Levin’s collection are three poems—“No,” “Maybe,” and “Into the Next Eden”—that seek to answer the question posed by the book’s title. This week, consider a question to ask yourself and write three poems with different responses. Do your answers surprise you?

Something New

4.28.22

“Can authors avoid the downward post-book spiral? Some depression may be inevitable. There’s an inevitable loss that comes with sending a book into the world,” writes Jessica Berger Gross, author of the memoir, Estranged: Leaving Family and Finding Home (Scribner, 2017), in “I Just Published a Book: Why Am I Depressed?” published on the Poets & Writers website in 2019. In the essay, Gross discusses the feeling of loss she experienced after publishing her memoir and speaks to other writers with “post-publication malaise.” This week, think back to a time when you finished a significant task, whether it was a manuscript, an essay, or moving out of an apartment, then write an essay about the spectrum of feelings you experienced throughout the process. Gross writes that the cure for post book depression is to “start writing something new.” What was your cure?

Interview

4.27.22

In an excerpt of Noor Naga’s new novel, If an Egyptian Cannot Speak English (Graywolf Press, 2022), published on Literary Hub, one of the main characters, an Egyptian American woman who moves to Cairo to teach English, discusses her relationship with her mother through a question and answer structure of vignettes. Rather than straightforward queries with direct replies, the questions are specific and personal—for example, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, should your mother be punished?” and “Is it arrogant to return to a place you’ve never been?”—setting up a tension that elevates the stakes for the character’s emotional arc. Taking inspiration from Naga’s novel, think of three questions that relate to your protagonist’s conflict, then answer these questions through first-person vignettes. How does this exercise help you understand your character, as well as challenge the traditional structure of a story?

Childlike

4.26.22

“I am five, / Wading out into deep / Sunny grass,” writes Yusef Komunyakaa in his poem “Venus’s-Flytraps.” The young speaker in this poem delivers a collage-like monologue that lays out the various characters, images, and places from his life along with a sense of wonder and danger carefully balanced in striking lines, creating a tapestry that portrays a very real and complex childhood. “I know things / I don’t supposed to know. / I could start walking / & never stop. / These yellow flowers / Go on forever,” writes Komunyakaa. Write a poem from the perspective of a curious child, which, like Komunyakaa’s poem, illustrates even the most devastating things with a sense of wonder.

Translating Yourself

4.21.22

Jhumpa Lahiri’s latest collection of essays, Translating Myself and Others, forthcoming in May by Princeton University Press, catalogues the Pulitzer Prize–winning author’s identity as a writer and translator of books in English and Italian. In the first essay, “Why Italian?” Lahiri explores her reason for beginning to write books in Italian. “Some people ask me, Why Italian instead of an Indian language, a closer language, more like you?” she writes. Inspired by the works of Italian authors such as Lalla Romano and Elena Ferrante, Lahiri continues to answer the question with three metaphors: the dual nature of a door, limited eyesight and blindness, and the multiple meanings of the word graft. Think back to a time when you first learned a skill or a new language, then choose a metaphor that captures the stages of that journey. Write an essay using the metaphor to flesh out the feelings and themes that arise from your exploration.

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