“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…


New work featured in “New Letters” Winter 2014 Issue

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Inspired by the International Retreat for Writers fellowship at Hawthornden Castle last June 2013, “The Others Are Strangers” is a tale that worked more like a possession. I have a sense of where the voice, the imagery, and this family came from, but its not like I could point to any fixed origin, certainly not in my life, certainly not autobiographical, but still a projekt that came from something both deep and transcendent. About a young boy from Midlothian Scotland, who feels estranged from his father, mother,  and older brother, he desperately wants to be close again–to live like a family once more.

I’ve been told hard copy issues are in the mail, and I can’t wait to get my paws on them. In the meantime, I dedicate this story to my fellow Hawthorndeners who made the residency an event I never want to forget. Here’s to you Hamish, Georgina, Allisdaire, Greg, Gretchen, Rosanna, Terry, Joan, and Julian.

If you’re so inclined, take a sneak peek of the story at New Letters website and catch the shout out included in Robert Stewart’s “Editor’s Note.” Then consider purchasing a copy for yourself or any lover of lit.