Writing Micro-Memoirs at VISIONS

by Victoria Richards

Everyone has a story to tell. And when we dig deep enough, our stories will unravel onto paper in a sort of magical fashion. This proved to be an undeniable truth at VISIONS, a nonprofit organization in New York City offering services for the blind and visually impaired. The writing workshops that Teachers & Writers Collaborative offers to visually impaired senior citizens in the greater New York City area are filled with talented, inspired, and passionate individuals who have an eager willingness to listen and learn from each other. Led by Dave Johnson, a long-time T&W teaching artist, part-time faculty at The New School, and poet-in-residence for the NYC Department of Probation, a recent workshop focused on micro-memoirs.

Workshop began with Johnson reading a passage from A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway. The chosen passage exemplified how craft in creative writing can work to make a connection between memories that surface stemming from place and food. It’s particularly fascinating to observe how the participants interpreted scenery by listening alone. After the reading, Johnson started off the workshop with a question: “Where are we?” Although Hemingway probably had a specific setting in mind for a certain purpose in the passage, the differing answers that workshop participants offered to the question about the setting made it clear that readers have the right to interpret setting and sensory descriptions at their individual discretion, which could ultimately trigger a personal memory of their own. After further discussion of the passage, workshop participants were asked to write two paragraphs about a moment when food created a shift in their world. The main objective for the writers was to focus on the specific food of their choice and recall how it moved them into another thought. And so, the writing began.

Some of the writers quickly put their pens to paper, pouring out their stories of moveable feasts. Other workshop participants opted instead to talk about their memories with some of the assistants in the classroom and later have it transcribed to paper. A few of the writers could be seen rubbing their fingers together in order to recall the flavor of the food they decided to write about; mangoes, eel, strawberry ice cream. All of these methods proved to be incredibly effective in stirring up memories to mold together some pretty tasty stories, as we would hear later on when everyone’s pieces were shared aloud.

One writer sat quietly to herself writing a succulent piece about her road trip to a Chinese buffet and how great the lobsters tasted. Another writer, through a memory of falling in love with the taste of eel for the first time at a Japanese restaurant that her son introduced her to, revealed how much the memory makes her miss her son, who lives in Chicago now.

A workshop participant wrote a telling story about what the feeling of “home” meant to him after he recalled the time that he dined at a kosher McDonald’s located in Israel. And the entire group enjoyed a delightfully humorous memoir piece that a participant wrote with the assistance of Amy Swauger, T&W executive director, about journeying from Philadelphia to South Carolina and tasting fried chicken with lard for the first time. 

Sometimes the best stories to be told are the ones that our memories inscribed in our minds long ago, sending our writing through a time traveling journey that no form of transportation could ever help us revisit.

About the Author:

Victoria Richards is a poet, freelance writer, and second-year MFA creative writing student at The New School. She holds a BS degree in public relations from St. John’s University. Victoria has a passion for encouraging children to appreciate and create literature for self-discovery. Lastly, she is a connoisseur of all things Black girl magic. She is a 2018-2019 T&W editorial associate.

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