Mitchell S. Jackson contemplates.

The last lecture of a series focusing on voice, Mitchell S. Jackson, someone who “nerds out” over prose and can’t have tea without honey, talked about finding an eloquent voice in creative writing. Bwogger Gloriana Lopez attended the event. 

As I entered Dodge 501, someone gave me a 19-page packet. After considering taking some wine, I wondered if I could actually get away with covering this event by just reading these pages. I would be proven wrong in the following hour.

Mitchell S. Jackson began his lecture by reading a paragraph from a handout that was provided to the audience. He talked about how the eloquence of a writer comes from their philosophies. Using the words of different authors’ opinion on voice, he gave the following advice on finding one’s voice:

  • Charles Baudelaire said “Always be a poet, even in prose”. Poets have less concerns about story and sometimes prose writers will make an excuse about not being meticulous about their sentences, so always consider yourself a poet.
  • Poetry is involved in childhood and youth and you do not realize it is actually poetry. As tracks of youth play in your head, listen to home and articulate what home sounds like.
  • Do something in a way that is particular to you, present part of yourself: your DNA in a part of your writing.
  • Eloquence is beauty. The way words look on a page matter.
  • Be beautiful and do not mind logic. Magic is imbued in the beauty of sentences.
  • Pay attention to sounds and arrangement of words, where sounds form in the mouth. “if it doesn’t stand up in the air it does not stand”.
  • Know syntax and understand use of language to play jazz with its elements.

With these points in mind, he then proceeded to explain how to put it into practice. He shared what he called “The craft person’s (incomplete) tool belt”, which contained so many different stylistic devices that I felt I was in English class learning about metaphors, alliterations, assonance and hyperbaton. He shared more strategies, like training your ear to listen to the acoustics of the sentence, the idea that sentences are like relationships (people remember how they start and how they end), and to bury the when possible (oops!). The audience was prompted to analyze different passages and point out what elements they used to show their voice, and he concluded his lecture by sharing a piece on non-fiction writing he had written.

Although it felt like I was back in high school, learning about things I would never really use, Professor Jackson provided important information and presented it in an engaging manner. Throughout his lecture, I was able to see his DNA and his personality shine through as he explained concepts with anecdotes and used his experiences to illustrate what not to do. At the end of the lecture I knew that his hero is James Baldwin, he played football in high school and he has texted two Pulitzer prize winners (impressive!). As a person who would probably never do any creative writing in her life and can barely write a coherent post, I considered taking a class with him … and then I realized he teaches at NYU.

Image via Columbia Website