Writerly Roundup — July/August 2020
Our Writerly Roundup blog series features a curated collection of articles on the craft of writing and the creative life that we don’t want you to miss.
For many of us, summer is synonymous with reading. We compile summer reading lists, pick out heavy tomes to tackle or toss a couple of “beach reads” in our tote bags. This summer has been decidedly different. Some voracious readers have found themselves unable to read during the pandemic, while others have delved into long-awaited Goodreads lists or traveled virtually with a good book.
In this month’s Writerly Roundup, I’ve included a couple of reading lists, in addition to articles on craft. You will also find a link to an excellent resource on how you can use various types of media to talk with kids about race. Please enjoy and share. If you have a current piece of writing you would like us to feature in our next Writerly Roundup, please send it our way to firstname.lastname@example.org.
You Have the Right to Remain Silent, Mary Morris, Paris Review
In Morris’ craft essay, she describes how a dispute with a neighbor over a tree branch provided the seed of a story. She delves into the conflict inherent in drawing from real life experiences with friends, family, and neighbors to craft a story and debates whether loved ones should be given a Miranda warning, “anything you say can, and will, be used against you.” Drawing an analogy with scavengers, Morris describes the means by which writers come upon the material for their stories:
Most civilians don’t really grasp what writers do. They think we stare out the window and make up things in our heads. It doesn’t occur to them (until it’s too late) that we are scavengers. We pick at any flesh on the bones that will feed our stories. We gather scraps and junk, detritus of what others discard. We are hoarders of the gritty details of people’s lives. That snippet about the family with the color-coded towels. The woman whose million-dollar home, carved into a cliff, didn’t contain a single item of food. The husband whose wife caught him cheating when she saw their E-ZPass bill. (How many times do you need to cross the George Washington Bridge in a week anyway?) We may as well be going out on a Sunday morning with a metal detector, scouring the playground for any tiny treasures left behind.
Morris recalls one anecdote in which personal details she confided in another author know as “C” were used in a novel without her consent or knowledge. Yet, she understood that “All writers, including myself, commit these betrayals, and C was a writer known for such appropriations.” She acknowledges being on both sides of this process, and the unique understanding between writers:
But the unspoken agreement between writers is often misunderstood by civilians. They do not grasp the particular alchemy we perform. Yes, we take from what is around us—the detritus and dross of everyday life—and then we concoct it into something quite different. Which is why I was never really angry with C. What she did was no different than a dog burying its bone. Instinct, pure and simple.
No Ideas but in (Beautiful) Things, Jody Keisner (@JodyKeisner), Brevity
In her craft essay, Keisner discusses how the “show don’t tell” writing advice she learned as a young writer didn’t work for her over time as it led to work that was “heavy on showing but lacked reflection and explication.” She then takes us on her journey towards a new approach, one inspired by the words of William Carlos Williams:
Perhaps it seems counterintuitive that in order to revive my writing, I turned to “No ideas but in things,” the famous phrase from William Carlos Williams’s lengthy poem Paterson, published in 1927, and often interpreted as “show, don’t tell.” But the two phrases don’t really mean the same thing at all, at least not in the way I interpret them. “Show, don’t tell” coaches a writer to communicate emotional weight and sensory textures through well-developed scenes, whereas “no ideas but in things” asks the writer to replace an abstract idea with a concrete object (a thing), moving the object toward symbolism.
Keisner describes a series of 250-word micro-essays that appeared in River Teeth in which objects as rendered as symbols of the underlying themes. The author describes how the “unique focal point of an object” can free writers to write about ordinary things. The author reminds writers “to meet readers halfway when illustrating our intended meaning, but not all the way.” This approach invites readers to fully engage with the prose.
Using Media to Talk With Children About Race , Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich, PBS Kids
Rhuday-Perkovich presents a variety of resources for parents to engage children in a discussion about race. The author includes suggested TV, videos, podcasts, and social media resources as well as books. As she points out:
…engaging young children on the topics of race and racism doesn’t need to be forced or A Very Special Moment. Parents can create opportunities through regular media use. Some questions to ask think about:
- How does your family address issues of race in the course of daily life?
- What does your child hear you say?
- Who does your family interact with?
- What races are represented in the books and media in your home?
Rhuday-Perkovich suggests incorporating these discussions into everyday life using media we already use. For example, podcasts can be used to “spark small, regular conversations about big topics.” She recommends that rather than avoid subjects in the news, parents help “children process the news and promote critical thinking skills by using media to encourage conversations about challenging topics.” Television is another way this can be accomplished:
Do your media selections reflect only a limited view of “Blackness?” Seek out programming that depicts Black children in a variety of contexts and environments living their lives, using their imaginations, and experiencing the emotional highs and lows that other children experience. When my 15-year-old daughter first saw Esme and Roy, her delighted squeal of “She’s like me!” was just as big as it would have been when she was only 5 or 6. When you’re watching or listening to a program, ask yourself and your children questions like “Where do Black characters live? How do they feel about their homes? What messages does this show send about how Black people live?”
8 Books That Will Make You Glad You’re Not at the Beach, Preety Sidhu (@_PreetySidhu), Electric Literature
The headline of Sidhu’s article immediately caught my eye, as someone who lives near the (closed) beach. Despite the article’s whimsical title, the eight “anti” beach reads Sidhu describes are dark in tone, reminders us that palm trees and sand can be as menacing as any fairy-tale forest.
From gulls attacking your sandwich to jellyfish stings to undercurrents that could drag you out to sea, many things can go wrong to interrupt an idyllic beach vacation in even the best of years. If sprawling out on the sand with a typical beach read is not in the cards for you this summer, consider diving into one of the following books that might make you glad to be far from the shore after all.
Sidhu’s picks span the decades from the 1970s to the present and I will likely pick up one or more that I missed over the (beach-going) years.
Most Anticipated: The Great Second-Half 2020 Book Preview, Editor, The Millions (@The_Millions)
Some good news: The Millions gives us a preview of some exciting book releases slated for now through December 2020. This is much to look forward to here, with a vibrant assortment of fiction, memoir and short story collections.
Have you read a compelling article about craft or the creative life that you think should appear in the next Writerly Roundup? Please send links to lmblogcontact (at) literarymama (dot) com—we’d love to hear your input!
1 reply on “Writerly Roundup — July/August 2020”
Great piece with helpful excerpts! Thank you!