Whether you’re writing poems, nonfiction, or fiction, creating characters who come alive for the reader involves a special kind of selectivity of detail. Some details fall flat, others make the character live in the reader’s imagination. In this weekend, we’ll look at published models of some exceptionally memorable character portrayals and try to do likewise in our own work. The writing we produce in this workshop may stand as individual, complete pieces, or be elements that become part of a longer work.
Although for years Jim Heynen was best known for his collections of short-shorts about “the boys” (The Man Who Kept Cigars in His Cap, Graywolf Press; You Know What is Right, North Point Press; The One-room Schoolhouse, Knopf; and The Boys’ House, Minnesota Historical Society Press), in 2014 Milkweed Editions published his first collection of short-shorts that feature mostly urban characters: Ordinary Sins: After Theophrastus. Heynen has also published three novels (The Fall of Alice K., Milkweed Editions; Cosmos Coyote and William the Nice, YA, Henry Holt; Being Youngest, YA, Henry Holt), as well as several collections of poetry, including A Suitable Church, Copper Canyon Press and Standing Naked: New and Selected Poems, Confluence Press. He wrote prose vignettes for two photography books published by The University of Iowa Press, Harker’s Barns and Sunday Afternoon on the Porch. His one major nonfiction book, One Hundred Over 100, Fulcrum Publishers, featured 100 American centenarians. Heynen has frequently been featured on National Public Radio reading his own stories and has been awarded National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships in both poetry and fiction.