On April 26, during club hours in room 7-160, the Sidney Harman Writer-in-Residence Program hosted a fiction workshop co-sponsored by Encounters Magazine. Nafissa Thompson-Spires, author of the book Heads of the Colored People: Stories, discussed creative writing and fiction.
The event was preceded by an introduction by the graphics director of Encounters, Bianca Monteiro. Monteiro, a former columnist at The Ticker, directs a team of designers and is primarily responsible for putting the magazine together in tandem with the editor-in-chief, Rebecca Vicente. Professor Bridgett Davis, an adviser for Encounters and director of the Harman program, was also present. A sizable amount of students attended, most of who major in journalism or are familiar with the program.
The beginning of the workshop started with Thompson-Spires reading from the chapter “Belles Lettres,” an autobiographical account in her book.
She referred to “Belles Lettres” as an “epistolary,” meaning “in the form of letters.” These letters can be written by one or more characters. They can be in chronological order, in which one letter follows the order of the previous letter. They can also be responsive, with one letter acting as a response to another letter.
Although letters are the standard form, there are many other forms, according to Thompson-Spires. The students and the author presented their variations, which included diary entries, voicemails, text messages, emails, Snapchat posts, postcards, court documents, Amazon reviews, Yelp reviews, Facebook posts, tweets, dating application profiles, YouTube comments and Craigslist postings.
Thompson-Spires’ inspiration for writing this chapter originated from a care package from her mother. The author referred to it as “just trash,” “a box of junk from my childhood” and “basically anything that had my name on it.” The care package contained several things, including a letter from Thompson-Spires’ childhood bully’s mother that enumerated everything that was wrong with her. She thought of this letter as an “impetus for a story or reimagining of these mothers fighting about their daughters.”
Thompson-Spires wanted the students to place themselves in her shoes: “Imagine your mother putting this in a box and sending it to you as a care packet with, like, cookies and stuff and you’re, like, opening the cookies and opening the nasty letters and the nasty comment from the teacher.”
After reciting the chapter, the author gave the students a chance to create their own epistolary stories. She also highlighted the importance of maintaining the “same sort of narrative arc that you would with any story.”
Thompson-Spires listed four parts that every story should have: an inciting incident, rising tension, climactic point and the denouement or resolution. She made the students take out a piece of paper and instructed them to write an inciting incident for a story. This was to be written with a passive-aggressive tone.
After the students were finished writing, she instructed them to swap their content with each other. Now with a new inciting incident, the students were told to write the rising tension and finish the rest of the story.
Following this, the students shared their stories out loud. In one of the stories, two students are writing messages to each other in a bathroom stall. One of the students threatens to tell the principal. The other student eventually stops replying, and a new student jokingly responds, “new sharpie who dis.” In another story, customers disagree over Amazon reviews for a litter box.
The event concluded with book signings from the author.
One thing that Thompson-Spires said toward the conclusion of the event was that many of the students should remember is that “anybody can do a lot in 15 minutes.”In other words, it could only take multiple 15-minute sessions for a writer to create a masterpiece, just like Thompson-Spires did in her book.
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