Research and teaching often cross-pollinate. A favorite example comes from the semester I taught lessons in ekphrasis in a creative writing workshop.
Rarely does a visiting writer sit down for the Friday morning craft talk and introduce a concept that I go on to use every day – every day – after. But this is exactly what happened when José Orduña, essayist, professor of English at the University of Nevada, and author of The Weight of Shadows visited.
The concept Orduña shared was this: one must have an occasion to write.
He showed us a photograph of the U.S.-Mexico wall and pointed out that while certain prominent political voices are calling to “build the wall,” the wall already exists. Indicating the wall in the photograph, Orduña said: “this is my occasion to write.”
“The occasion to write” helps me link two different course goals in my Introduction to the Nonfiction Essay: one goal is to expose students to contemporary trends in nonfiction. Another goal is to coax students into writing beyond themselves. I recently created an ekphrastic writing assignment to combine these, relying on art, history, and conversation to multiply students’ own occasions to write.