Note on Writing “Not a Good Day for Planting Root Crops”

January 28, 2008 § Leave a comment

Marcia Aldrich discusses the background to her essay, Not a Good Day for Planting Root Crops, in the current issue of Brevity:

This lyric essay began in an exercise I did with my undergraduate creative nonfiction students. The assignment focused on two separate objectives. The first asked them to experiment formally with the shape of their essay through segmentation. At a minimum they had to include three different kinds of segments and assemble them in an aesthetically pleasing and unifying way. I gave them suggestions: meditation on a color, targeting different senses, recreating overheard dialogue, memories of other places, a found poem. These suggestions were not intended to limit or prescribe what they might consider including in their essay. I talked about different modes as well—narrative, descriptive, meditative.

The second objective focused on observation and creating a mini-portrait of a nonfiction place. Here we talked about how to define our relationship to this specific place. Since the fountain area was located on campus near frequently used classroom buildings, the students were familiar with the place. We weren’t true outsiders, yet because the place was a public space, none of us lived there and most of us just passed through on our way to somewhere else.

Unfortunately it was the middle of March in Michigan when I did this assignment.  The timing of the assignment came to play an unexpectedly large role in what the essay came to be about.

I tried this assignment with my students as a test drive since I had made it up and I didn’t know what its difficulties might be. Segmentation has not come easily for me; I’ve been working to get the hang of it. This essay was a breakthrough and gave me invaluable experience about the complicated layering and textual intersections that can be accomplished through even a brief segmented essay. The segmented approach drove my discovery of the emotional layers in my experience of this place at this specific point in time and surprised me. 

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