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Five Ws and an H -- With a Twist

By Kathryn van der Pol

I was so glad to see Victor Merina’s name on the program. I first met him a couple years ago at a University of Missouri workshop on diversity. His writing had kept me spellbound then so it was with great anticipation that I went to see him at the Nieman Conference.

“Remind me if I walk out the door to take off my mic; a friend of mine at The New York Times forgot to do that and went to the bathroom,” he said, as began his talk on the personal essay. He reviewed reasons we may resist writing the personal essay, such as the fear that “nothing about you is interesting enough.” Or, “There’s not enough time,” to which Victor said, “Write faster!” He asked the audience to think. To think about what makes us angry, what makes us laugh, what makes us sad. This was a good exercise. After a few moments, he urged us to consider the 5 Ws and the H, but with a twist -- “Who are you thinking about? What does the scene lead to? Where were you when it happened? When did you first become aware of the emotion? Why does this scene resonate? How? could you convey this scene? Great questions. I was inspired.

What made his talk special, as I thought it would, was his writing. I have some great pieces he wrote about a 66-hour long bus trip across the U.S. Another on a failed conference in New Orleans to encourage writers to be more sensitive to diversity (failed because only six people attended). These are great pieces for me and my students. The audience agreed, spontaneously applauding.

Victor ended his presentation with hip hop. “The Shoop Song – A Narrative Writing Tip Sheet” was enthusiastically rapped to drum beats and maracas. I don’t know if I’ll ever have a personal essay published, but I know one thing. I am hooked on Victor.

Kathryn van der Pol teaches Latin and advises the school newspaper The Review at St. John’s School in Houston, Texas.

Posted in memoir & personal essay, sessions.Personal Essays in Daily Journalism, speakers.Victor Merina on December 12, 2003 at 05:14 PM | Permalink