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The Exquisite Machine

I teach creative writing to high school students. I've been at it for about 4 1/2 years, and I love it. My favorite part of this job is coming up prompts to jumpstart creativity. This is a prompt for the city of Pittsburgh.

My idea is this: The Story Machine. I'd like to set up a sentence station (or stations) somewhere in Pittsburgh that will involve a typewriter and a "machine." Participants will type the first line of a brand-new story or poem - just the first line, anything that comes to mind! - followed by their basic information. All of this will go into the "machine" which will do the rest of the work! Their completed story or poem will be mailed back to their home address in just a few weeks.

The "machine" will actually be a craftily disguised box. Once enough first sentences are gathered, a series of writing parties will take place -- this is how the machine actually works. These will be open to whoever would like to attend - kids and adults alike - who will take the submitted sentences or lines and use them as writing prompts to create short-short stories or poems, which will then be sent back to the original writers for their enjoyment.

Why this idea is awesome:

  • It will work! Typewriters are irresistible, even to those who gave up writing as a pleasure long ago. I hope to get the public engaged in a creative process, people who would probably not otherwise sit down and write for fun.

  • Pittsburgh is home to tons of writers and artists… as well as all those people who would be artists and writers if given a little push. The writing parties will give people both a reason to write and a prompt to build on. I am particularly interested in getting high school students (not just my own) involved.

  • Receiving mail from an actual person is such a great feeling! It's almost thrilling, in a weird way. I'd love to spread that feeling around a bit.

  • Community engagement! Anyone will be able to contribute sentences, and writing parties will ideally be held at a few different locations around the city (coffee shops, public spaces, maybe a museum or university).

I would also love to save a copy of all the stories and poems generated through this project to compile into a website or a physical book. I run a small press (batcatpress.com) with my students who would certainly be up to such a task!

Thanks for considering this!!

Funded by Pittsburgh, PA (April 2012)