This past week, several students in my essay writing workshop submitted drafts for review by the rest of us. We do this every week—it is a critique workshop—but this time the drafts were very specific: each was to be entered in a writing contest co-sponsored by Paste and Biographile, with the theme “That Summer!”
Draft topics included a youthful romance rekindled in mid-age; hitting puberty with attitude; and a city kid discovering the wonders of wild nature.
A good number of my writing students—whether in memoir classes, personal essay, or family stories—are Boomers, others a bit pre- or post-. No matter where they fall along that continuum, I’m always impressed by the range of personal stories they want to tell, especially those I call “origin stories”—as some of the summer essays turned out to be—stories that reveal how certain experiences from long ago helped shape our sense of who we are and have become.
In my next book—the title of which keeps changing—I devote the first chapter to Origin Stories—those focused on growing up through and into our late teens/early twenties. Many of these stories occur within our families, schools, and neighborhoods, but not exclusively.
The ones I’ve written about include my parents “mixed” marriage and drinking; going to an all-girls Catholic high school; and what it was like to live nearly 1000 miles away from all my relatives—cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents.
Even more than shaping identity, however, origin stories are endless sources of inspiration for writers and other artists. As I frequently misquote Flannery O’Connor: anyone who survives childhood has enough to write about for the rest of their lives.
Here’s what she actually said:
“Anybody who has survived his childhood has enough information about life to last him the rest of his days.”
Origin Stories: information and inspiration to last a lifetime.
Contact me for more information about my upcoming writing workshops, both online
and at Chicago's renowned Newberry Library