Writing the City typically refers to the collective effect of literary writing that defines an urban place. Authors “write the city” any time they allow a metropolis, real or imagined, a primary role in their work — whether it’s setting as character, as repository for feeling, as locus of fabulist imaginings or as vehicle for contemporary social critique. To get a taste for the genre, take a stab at any of the prompts below. 

Prompts: 

Remembering: The word “nostalgia” has two Greek roots: nostos -- returning home, and algos -- pain. Even if you’ve called Denver home for a short period of time something has likely gone and been replaced by something else. Part of the societal work of literature is to push back against erasure, against forgetting, by honoring what once was (and by cribbing off that in-built tension to color and motivate your work!). Pick a lost location, describe it down to the smallest and most precise details available to your memory. You may have a lyric piece in and of itself or you may have a meaningful setting for dramatic prose.

 

Experiencing: Former Denver poet laureate Chris Ransick has said that if you’re having writer’s block it might be because you’ve been looking inside when you could look out. Choose a sense you’d like to see more of in your work — sound, smell, touch. Take a short walk with these sensory details determining your path. There’s a great opportunity here for hybrid/ digital writing — try using your phone to record sounds and to photograph textures or qualities of light. Allow yourself to play with a vibrant, sensory piece of descriptive writing that works around the edges of what media can convey.  

 

Imagining: Whether you’re imagining a future Denver or inventing an impossible city, part of the attraction for the reader is that they realize they’re intentionally departing reality. Change one thing about Denver — maybe the concept of walls was never invented, or everyone travels by hover board, etc. Now introduce your reader to the new reality of this city either via description or through characters' live actions shaped by this alternative reality.

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Further reading:

If you love this soft genre, some great examples include

  • Gary Shteyngart's Super Sad True Love Story (New York),
  • Nami Mun’s Miles from Nowhere (The Bronx),
  • Orhan Pamuk’s The Museum of Innocence (Istanbul),
  • Julio Cortazar’s Hopscotch and Blow up Stories (Paris, Buenos Aires)
  • Chan Koonchung’s Fat Years (Beijing).

For imaginary metropoli try Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities, Salmon Rushdie’s The Sea of Stories, or Margaret Atwood’s Maddaddam trilogy.