Mentor Text: The City of Lost Love by Kaitlyn Greenidge
- Writing About Places
Background – As I often proclaim in this space, my Twitter feed yields such a rich supply of resources and inspiration. It is often the place that the pieces I share here are found.
Such is the case this week. The New York Times learning network is a great follow, consistently sharing articles, opinion, and imagery, often presented alongside lesson plan ideas.
@NYTimesLearningSuch was the case with this week’s mentor text. What was neat was that it actually wound up being very serendipitous, as there was a post from Merriam-Webster about how the word nostalgia means both “homecoming” and “pain.” I filed that tidbit away for use with memoir next year. And a few days later, Twitter gave me this mentor text, “The City of Lost Love” by Kaitlyn Greenidge.
It is exactly the mentor text I needed for this lesson. It also ties in nicely to a cartoon from Mari Andrew that I used last semester. Greenidge’s idea of “secret maps” or “ghostmaps” is a powerful one, as the places we live in, our cities and towns, their geography is imprinted upon our hearts. Living half a country away from where I grew up, visiting my old stomping grounds every summer, I feel that so strongly.
How we might use this text:
Writing About Place – Writing about place is something I use for different purposes. Sometimes, we use it as a base for storytelling, under the old adage of “write what you know.” When we look into adversity and society, writing about place can be very revealing. When we work with memoir, it makes sense to write about places we’ve called home. (I find this especially so, because our memoir work falls in students’ last year in our school, when they very well may be leaving that place they’re writing about.)
What’s especially powerful about Greenidge’s piece as a mentor text is that it encourages our writers to tap into memory first, and write about a place at a specific time, channeling the memories that particular moment evokes. It also moves ahead, encouraging them to talk about change. Many of our writers like this balanced structure, of having a “then and now” to anchor their piece in, to drive their narrative.
Memoir – Writing about a place is a regular memoir task in my classroom. In my archives, I’ve got numerous iterations of this task. I’m really excited about this piece as a mentor text for that task though.
One of the strongest aspects, memoir-wise, of this piece is that it uses two time periods, memory and reflection. “I didn’t have those words when I was younger.” allows Greenidge to connect her ideas of love now to her understanding of love when she was younger. It is through the nostalgia for a place that this happens, emphasizing both the “homecoming” and “pain” that are in that word. She continues, “Change is also part of our understanding of the city…” highlighting the contrast between what was, and what is. As I think of when I have my students write memoir, in what may be their last English course before graduation, and all that is associated with that, this contrast could be powerful. Wouldn’t this be a lovely mentor piece to use after we visit our early, or middle years, school. (The benefits of living and teaching in a small town is that this is simply a walk across the field, or down the street for most of my students.) Even revisiting locations in our own building, and reflecting on our first days there could be powerful catalysts for some writing.
This suggestion of a personal, or secret, or ghost map of your hometown is a powerful idea in this text. Sending students out into their world with their notebooks, asking them to travel about, noting memories triggered by the places they pass could yield some very personal and moving pieces. Highlighting the passages in this piece that talk about those maps could inspire that. Personally, I think that using the descriptors secret or ghost would add an interesting element to the activity – it’s not just a personal map, but it’s a secret map, highlighting experiences you’ve maybe not shared before, or it’s a ghost map, focusing on places that you used to haunt, but don’t anymore…
Imagery – “If I think of him now, I think of the smell of sweating White Castle hamburgers.” I knew this was a mentor text from the very first line. Tying a person to a particular image like that is such a powerful opening, and one that we can use to inspire writers. They can start by listing important people in their lives. That list can be explored, attaching a smell, a sound, or some other strong image to that person. Even if they’re writing this MadLibs style, they’re going to wind up with a pretty killer first line, aren’t they?
Another passage that has some moves worth looking at is the paragraph about that single visit to White Castle. Many of us have a place we’ve been once, often associated with the person that brought us there, that has left a pretty lasting impression. There is a beauty in the compact way that Greenidge speaks volumes about that place by simply focusing on that one moment, the “prize” from the machine. What a powerful example of “show, don’t tell” for our writers.
Though it’s frustrating to find a versatile and powerful mentor text like this after the course I’d use it in has just ended, it’s amazing to have found it. I always find that time reveals more about a mentor text, and even as I write about it to share it here, I find myself pulling more from it. As well, as those of us who use mentor texts know, once we’ve shared it with our colleagues, their eyes upon it find the things we’ve missed, and their perspectives give us more uses for it. When the new school year begins, and I’m again teaching the course I’ll use this piece in, it’ll be an even richer resource.
What are your go-to mentor texts for writing about place? What’s a mentor text that over time has revealed itself to be more valuable than you’d initially thought? Since we’re all thinking the same thing reading this piece, what’s on your ghost map?
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