Want to inform your writing? Start by becoming informed. In a recent craft talk to our creative writing students, Reginald Dwayne Betts Jr, accomplished poet and author of a number of books including Bastards of the Reagan Era, gave the prompt: think of a recent headline or event and then juxtapose that event with something from your personal life in order to create new meaning and perspective. To demonstrate, he quoted the first paragraph of James Baldwin’s Notes of a Native Son:

“On the twenty-ninth of July, in 1943, my father died. On the same day, a few hours later, his last child was born. Over a month before this, while all our energies were concentrated in waiting for these events, there had been, in Detroit, one of the bloodiest race riots of the century. A few hours after my father’s funeral, while he lay in state in the undertaker’s chapel, a race riot broke out in Harlem. On the morning of the third of August, we drove my father to the graveyard through a wilderness of smashed plate glass.” ~Notes of a Native Son, James Baldwin (1955)

Betts pointed out that by infusing the very private event of his father’s funeral with an image from the very public event of the race riots, Baldwin has set the stage to explore his complicated relationship with his father against a highly charged backdrop of racial injustice, hatred and violence. It’s a move that not only demonstrates social awareness, but adds credibility to personal insight.

The prompt was also a call for aspiring writers to cast their nets wide–be curious, stay connected, find inspiration in many forms (music, film, art, news…) OAR editors caught up with one of our Oakland University undergrads, Eva Hill, who said she admired the encouragement that Betts offered to stay open to anything and everything for material. For her prompt, she wrote about the refugee crisis in Syria, which not only freed her from a three month writer’s block, but alerted her to ways in which she could become more involved with communities looking to bring those refugees aid.

So. What will your story be?