From Fact to Fiction: Using Primary Sources in Creative Writing Classes

Libraries and archives may not be the first places that come to mind when creative writing students are thinking about composing their next assignment. Inspiration is often assumed to be all a writer needs, but there are actually several ways in which books, manuscripts and University Archives collections can be helpful.

For any topic beyond a writer’s immediate life experience, background research is an essential ingredient and primary sources like rare books, letters, diaries, maps, and photographs (to name just a few of the formats) offer creative writing students a unique chance to intimately interact with voices and images from the past.

The Special Collections reading room set-up for a creative writing class visit.

The Special Collections reading room, set up for a creative writing class visit.

The physical objects themselves carry a message that goes beyond the words or images visible to the eye and thus have the exceptional power to connect the researcher with the time, event or people that are the object of their studies. Simply touching a piece of history can be a moving and thought-provoking experience that has the potential to help writers flesh out characters and add color to events and context.

Selection of hand colored, eighteenth century maps from the John Womack Wright Collection of Maps (Mss. 65 W93).

Selection of hand colored, eighteenth century maps from the John Womack Wright Collection (Mss. 65 W93).

On a different level, collections of published authors’ papers that contain multiple drafts of literary manuscripts and correspondence with publishers allow students to gain insights into the various aspects of the editorial process.

And there is of course plenty of food for inspiration itself, so whether you start your creative journey here or just make us one of the stops along the way, come curious and open to explore distant times and places. The Special Collections Research Center is excited to be part of this experience.

Stereographs from A Trip Through Sears, Roebuck and Co. (Mss. Acc. 2010.092) in the Ephemera Collection (Mss. 1.02).

Stereographs from A Trip Through Sears, Roebuck and Co. (Mss. Acc. 2010.092), in the Ephemera Collection (Mss. 1.02).

 

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