Lessons in Memoir from Self-Portraiture

September 17, 2021 § 1 Comment

Our new issue includes a fascinating Craft Essay from author Kim Pittaway exploring the need to convey depth and shadow when writing the self, how “a slimly pen-stroked ‘I’ isn’t a portrait,” and what we can learn from visual artists and self-portraiture.

Her essay includes links and examples, and a series of excellent, unusual prompts such as:

What catches your eye? Throughout a day or a weekend, snap images of where your gaze settles: the irritating scuff on the white-painted stair riser heading up to your bedroom; the dog’s wagging tale as its dream delights it; the way the water pools on the barbecue lid in the rain. Print out the images. What insights might a stranger discovering your collection draw from these photos?

Who’s in your group? If you were to paint a group self-portrait of you at 17, who else would be in the frame? Describe them—both the real people and the influential figures who loomed large (your Virgin Marys). Now step back and describe yourself as each of them sees you. Try it at 27. 57. 77.

Wish I’d been there: What moment in history would you most like to have witnessed? Research the scene—and then place yourself in it, but at its fringes. Are you Caravaggio holding the lantern? The short-order cook at the Greensboro Sit-In? The kid behind the kid who caught a World Series home run baseball? Be as true to you as you can be: What do you see of yourself in this imagined scene that you might miss revealing in a more factual moment?

You can read Pittaway’s full craft essay here.

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