I’ve always been a fan of Kim Culbertson, and I was lucky to feature her books The Wonder of Us and The Possibility of Now. Her newest book, co-written with Grant Faulkner, explores the art of flash fiction and its benefits in helping writers hone their craft. More information about writing within a constraint is forthcoming at this year’s upcoming Sierra Writers Conference.
What can 100-word stories help your students understand about writing? The short answer is, everything!
This flash-fiction form has become a popular structure for efficiently teaching a wide variety of literary devices, terms, and processes in a targeted way. Part teaching guide, part anthology, 100-Word Stories is a dynamic guide complete with lessons and prompts to help young writers learn and practice literary elements, narrative skill, and personal voice.
Through a collection of accessible lessons, each with a mentor text that is either student- or author-created, Culbertson and Faulkner share insight into using these “small, bright things” in the ELA classroom. The book’s structure is meant to be flexible-you might dip in and out of the lessons as needed to supplement existing curricula, or you might choose to teach an entire unit based on the lessons. No matter how you employ them, this short form can create expansive practice for young writers.
In our last interview (pre-pandemic), you said, “Rebuilding something takes honesty and self-awareness and time –things that aren’t always in wide supply.” Do you still find that these things are a scarcity, and if so, how do you negotiate them?
I said that? How funny that I don’t remember that. Add memory to something that doesn’t seem to be in wide supply (for me) lately. 🙂 I do think this is still very true — that rebuilding something takes both of these things. And honesty and self-awareness aren’t always in wide supply. I do think both of these things have guided me in my own life as a writer. I’ve definitely taken a different path than I thought I was going to (and probably much different that the last time we talked). The pandemic changed things for me — shifted things in my heart about my values and habits. I suddenly wanted different things. My teaching became much more essential than my own writing. I had to be honest with myself about what I wanted from being a writer and so much of that had to do with doing a certain kind of work in the world, coming home at the end of the day feeling good about my community and my choices. So, I try to start any project now with asking essential questions of it: how will this feel rich for me as an experience? how will this benefit my community? how will it make my heart bigger?
Those are definitely great questions to consider! Your forthcoming book, 100-WORD STORIES, co-written with Grant Faulkner, explores the flash-fiction form. On your website, you state that this stemmed from your love(s) of teaching and storytelling. In what ways do you think these two entities feed into one another (or not)?
In a very difficult world, the small moments have become increasingly important to me. The daily bits of beauty or loss or joy we experience. When I started teaching 100-word stories with my high school students or the graduate students I was working with over the last five years, I found that these “small, bright things” as I like to call them contain such rich, vast worlds. I love how expansive they end up being as far as looking at all the elements of what makes for an engaging story. The book ended up being a sort of love letter to these tiny jewels — and to teaching, something that continues to bring so much love to my life.
Wonderful. As a writing consultant, you talk about “nurturing each writer’s process.” What, in your experience, have you found is the most challenging part of helping authors share their work with the world?
I’m going to address this more as a teacher because I’m not doing as much consulting work as I used to do. Specifically, with my teenage students, I find getting them to define and trust their own voices proves to be challenging. We are all still struggling to process the pandemic in our own ways but I believe that young people had an especially challenging time. Whole systems (belief, cultural, educational) were subverted for them in ways I know I never had to deal with during those formative years. As a teacher, I’m trying to help them find their way back into their own purposes, their own futures, their own ideas, on the heels of experiencing something so global and scary. Right now, I’m most centered on them sharing their own work with their own hearts, encouraging them to care about their own minds and what they think, so they can find a way forward that feels meaningful. The world is awash in content, but I still believe that each person has a truly unique voice to share and it is the collective of human voices that is most valuable to the creative experience.
To find out more about Kim Culbertson and her books,
go to https://kimculbertson.com/