STILLPOINT Archive: last updated 04/24/2013

Drawn In (or, How Not to Be a Hero)

by John Dixon Mirisola ’11

Students writing“You’re not writing about yourself. You’re writing about a character that happens to be you.”

This is what Bryan Parys ’04 tells his Literary Memoir class at Gordon. It’s this self-reflective detachment that sets high-caliber memoir apart from the supermarket pulp tell-alls we’ve come to associate with autobiography.

“We want to be the heroes of our own stories,” Parys says, and he considers that a prideful and uninteresting approach. “What makes the writing ‘literary’ is what pushes you to the outsides.”
But how to remove young writers from the centers of their own created worlds? Parys, who asked himself the same question while earning his M.F.A. in creative nonfiction from the University of New Hampshire, thinks illustration helps. So with help from artist and graphic designer Grant Hanna ’06, Parys will teach his students to interpret the scenes from their writing visually in order to better understand themselves as characters in their own stories.

“It’s about interacting with the material,” Parys says, “rather than how realistic the noses look.”

The medium doesn’t matter; students are welcome to submit sketches, doodles, collages, or Microsoft Paint printouts.

What does matter is that Parys’ students work to set themselves among all the other characters and objects within their story’s visual frame—to become an engaging, imperfect subject, rather than the polished lens.

John Dixon Mirisola is a communications specialist in the Office of College Communications at Gordon.