This fall, I am taking a creative non-fiction course in the professional writing graduate program I am enrolled in. During the semester, each student will be working on a project that is a collection of essays surrounding a main issue or theme. We've had to choose our topics and explain why we are interested in writing about them, and how personal the essay will be. Also, how much research is needed to get the project complete in 16 weeks.
Well, I must say the idea of creating non-fiction work is both exciting and equally scary. As a writer working to develop my craft and express myself as best I can stylistically, this feat will be very difficult. But difficult is okay because that will help me achieve what I just mentioned.
There are a few things I do when working on a literary project. Actually, I do these things all the time, but if I want to get prose down on paper, I do them with a more keen perspective. For example, yesterday I attended a small festival in a part of Baltimore city called Locust Point. The area is in between the city's harbor and interstate I-95. When I read about the festival happening this weekend on Baltimore Magazine's website, I thought it to be a small coincidence. A coincidence because in the pages of one of the books I'm reading, "Not In My Neighborhood: How Bigotry Shaped A Great American City," mentions how Locust Point was once one of the most racist parts of Baltimore in the early 20th century. The author, Antero Pietila, a Finnish man who arrived in the United States in the '60s, writes about how the town once participated in an "all-white after sundown," a policy that required blacks to leave the area after dark. A public figure even boasted that if a black person were to move into the neighborhood, they would lose their life.
Although these ridiculous policies were not official law and existed nearly a century ago, I pondered just how much Locust Point has changed socially since then. As I entered Latrobe Park past an Under Armour sports field, I scanned the crowd of people mingling at the festival. There's a dog park and children's play area to my right. I looked forward again noticing nearly every one there was white. A few blacks and other non-whites were scattered amongst the crowd, which really were small groups of people congregated in a small space. I noticed the blacks were with a small group of whites; it didn't appear like they came in their own group. In other words, they appeared to be guests or mere acquaintences of their white peers. It was a hot day, and I just wanted to get some sun and fresh air for a bit. I did just that and maybe a little bit more.
Continuing in to the festival, walking past food vendors, beers ticket sales booths, and other sales vendors, I took notice of the people selling and advertising various goods. Most were local artists and businesses there to expand their brand. I realized they too were white. I felt at ease walking through, browsing jewelry, an acupuncture practice, and organic juices sole in select stores throughout Maryland. I noticed a lot. I noticed the whiteness.
Normally, I'd just go out, grab a beer, enjoy a live band and soak up some sun. But I am in writer's delivery mode. I need content, valid content, and a series of visuals to connect it together.
This is one of the things I do, as a writer, when I'm conjuring up new work. I see everything, I notice most things, and I think of the potential story that gives reason to what I'm seeing. From my research to date, I can confidently say Locust Point has some of the century old social and racial residue lingering in the air. Much of the city does, so it comes as no surprise. But that's a story for later...