“What Keeps You Up at Night? What Gets You Out of Bed?”: Creative Prompts for SMC Jan Term “The Art of Race”

Week #3 of SMC Jan Term “The Art of Race” and yours truly believes the best way to describe the experience of teaching this course is through this image:

By the end of the term, I like to believe I will be ground down to an essence in which I could be sprinkled into a tasty mole.

We are moving into the final project for the course where students will choose a creative writing genre (poetry, short fiction, or the creative personal essay) to write their own story of race, identity, ethnicity, multiculturalism, difference, prejudice, and/or discrimination.

In addition to the basic principles of their chosen literary form, they are expected to incorporate ideas and creative analyses based on the authors we’ve read in class to creatively interrogate notions on how issues of race, identity, multiculturalism, difference, and prejudice intersect with imagination, literary style, and aesthetics.

Some prompts to get their creative engines revved:


Image result for invocation to daughtersTaking a cue from Barbara Jane Reyes poem “The Day” in Invocation to Daughters (City Lights, 2017) write about this specific moment. Note the time, the date, the location, and describe details of this particular moment for each of the seven senses (sight, sound, taste, touch, scent, balance). Note your surroundings. Where and how are you physically? How does that contrast or coincide with where and how you are mentally, emotionally, spiritually, artistically.



Taking a cue from Kevin Young The Gray Album: On the Blackness of Blackness, What keeps you up at night? What gets Image result for on the blackness of blacknessyou out of bed? Who is your imaginary “American”? Where does s/he come from? Describe the land? Use your senses, touch, smell, taste, see, hear, balance? What does s/he wear? Eat? How does s/he walk? Talk? How does s/he roll? What does s/he rock to or listen to? How does that music make him/her feel? What is his/her American dream?


Short Fiction:

Create a scene where a character first discovers s/he is different from others. Where does this scene take place? Who else is there? What are they doing? Wearing? How are they acting? How do the other characters create or take away space from your main character? How do the other characters create a mirror for the main character to see him or herself reflected? How does s/he react to his/her own self image reflected back? What kind of conflict and tension is created? Is there an exchange through words or action? How does the exchange or non-exchange heighten the interiority of tension your main character is feeling? What differences does s/he notice between her/him and the other characters? How does that affect the six senses s/he is feeling at the moment (sight, sound, taste, touch, scent, balance, and time)? What questions are raised for your main character?

More prompts to come…


The Shadow Craft: Riffing off of Kevin Young’s “On the Blackness of Blackness”

From Kevin Young’s The Gray Album: On the Blackness of Blackness

The Shadow Book: One

Lately I have been thinking about the idea of a shadow book–a book that we don’t have, but know of, a book that may haunt the very book we have in our very hands. I have even begun to think that there are three kinds of shadow books in the tradition, and hope to provide a brief taxonomy of them. Like to hear it, here it go—

First there are the kind of shadow books that fail to be written: the Africana Encyclopedia by Du Bois the second novels of Jean Toomer or Ralph Ellison that never appeared, at least in recognizable form…As readers eager for such shadow books, we search among the fragments of a life unlived…(11)

Started reading Kevin Young’s Gray Album (Gray Wolf Press, 2012), and all I can say is “what took me so long?!” What should be required reading for anyone who studies history, politics, art, culture, music–anyone who enjoys reading, period– has me thinking of all the shadows we writers and artists of color were born into, continue to live in not necessarily by choice, but have made these shadows our own, the shadows we desperately try to push out to the open.

The mind is spinning with shadows we seek, shadows we’ve prodded, shadows we claimed as spaces to play and produce, shadows such as:

shadow pedagogy
shadow curriculum
shadow reading lists
shadow craft
shadow theory
shadow panels
shadow colloquiums
shadow seminars
shadow readings
shadow communities
shadow networks
shadow social media
shadow transactions via IM, email, FB, tweets, etc.
the shadow canon.

In my dream shadow craft course, I would teach this shadow work-in-progress reading list:

Diane Glancy, Inbetween Places
Kevin Young, The Gray Album
Woolf, A Room of One’s Own
Edwidge Danticat, Create Dangerously
Gish Jen, Tiger Writing
Trinh T. Minha, Elsewhere Within Here
Anis Shivani, Against the Workshop

I would assign this shadow supplementary reading list, also a work-in-progress:

One of the shadow assignments would be to research a writer or artist and how s/he practices social action. Students would investigate: What does social action mean for that writer/artist? How does s/he define community, identity, and craft through social action? How does community, identity, and craft define social action for your chosen writer/artist?

Just some shadow dreaming as I continue the shadow craft of writing.