Have you ever wondered what it would have been like to have been a writer living in the 1950s? Well, today you can use your imagination and write about it. Keep reading to see the full writing prompt and my completed version of it.
Today’s Writing Prompt: 1950s Writers’ Workshop
Imagine you’re a woman or minority participating— or trying to participate— in a writers’ workshop in the 1950s. Then write a fictional scene about it from the first-person point of view.
Completed Version of Today’s Writing Prompt
1950s Writers’ Workshop, by K.E. Creighton
Hal keeps staring at my chest. But as soon as I start thinking about throwing my hardbound notebook at his face, he averts his gaze.
James, the eighth member in our group of writers (if you can call us that) has finally arrived, sucking up everyone’s attention. We always wait for him to arrive to begin our workshop meetings because he’s the only one in our group who’s had his stories published in The Atlantic. Twice. Over a year ago. And he never lets us forget it either. Especially when doling out unsolicited criticisms.
Hal nods to James, pulls out a chair, and makes space at the round table for him. James nods and doesn’t even apologize to everyone for being nearly twenty minutes late. I, on the other hand, only got a seat at this table because I had arrived much earlier, two hours earlier. And because I brought my famous pineapple upside-down cake. And, most importantly, because the space we meet in belongs to my father.
Regardless of how I got here and was permitted to stay (or tolerated), I had decided last week that today was going to be the day to present my writing to the group. I had been working on a story for nearly a month. And I knew it was ready to be workshopped. Finally. So I was ready to make that happen.
Before any of the men can say anything, I stand up and hand out copies of my story and tell them we will be workshopping it first. I spent several hours typing up each copy individually yesterday because I am a terrible typist. The men in the room wouldn’t believe this due to my sex, but I am. Just terrible. My own father even barred me from working in his office because I am too slow and always make too many typos.
At first, no one says anything. But after a beat, Clark says, “Alright, let’s see.”
There’s silence for a few minutes as everyone reads.
Eventually, James speaks up. He says, “I’m sorry, Mary. But as someone who’s worked with popular publishers, I can tell you that there just isn’t a market for this kind of stuff. No one will want to read a woman’s childish and rebellious plight from inside a loony bin.”
“Yeah, she’s not a very realistic or likable character either. Too headstrong and man-like. And your prose in this is a tad thin,” says Hal.
“Yeah, I agree with James and Hal on this one,” echoes Clark, as the rest of those seated around the table remain silent.
[All Rights Reserved by K.E. Creighton and Creighton’s Compositions LLC. The above work is a piece of fiction. All names and locations referred to are the product of the author’s imagination and or are used entirely for fictional purposes. Any similarities to real-life persons or places are purely coincidental.]
Notes on Completing this Writing Prompt
I drew inspiration for this writing prompt from female authors who came before me, who were often discouraged and disregarded. And I kept reminiscing about my experience reading Red Comet: The Short Life and Blazing Art of Sylvia Plath by Heather Clark. I will always wonder how much important art has been lost over the years, decades, and centuries, due to scenes like the fictional one I wrote about above— which is entirely based in the real world.
It was just another day in Southern California. I turned on the radio to my favorite rock and roll station, hearing Smokey Robinson and Elvis Presley. I was so grateful to my father for letting me be born as a post-war baby, making me a teenager, but still too young for Korea. My older brother had already gone, and the weekly letters sometimes made Mom cry.
I was making my way down to breakfast, and kissed Mom as she piled my plate with pancakes. Dad was dressed in his tie, ready to report to the office. He mentioned to Mom something about a big merger, but I never paid attention.
Sis was dressed for UCLA, and she was so proud to be in her 3rd year for pre-med. Dad took us all to dinner the day she was approved for her academic scholarship. I was quick to remind her that she always asked for my help with science, and Dad’s help with math. She mussed my hair and called my a dork.
After breakfast, I took my bike to school. The cool kids were all wearing leather jackets, and the jocks were in their school sweaters. Most of the girls were in poodle skirts, but I stayed with my khaki pants and short-sleeve plaid shirt. I spied Christine Miller, the girl I had tutored through history and science.
Christine and I lived across the street from each other. I had developed a crush on her in junior high, but since she was a cheerleader and on student council, I decided to stay in the “friend zone”. It wasn’t like I had much choice!
My buddy Clark Johnson met me at the first class. He took me to the side and confided in me that his older brother had been drafted, and was scheduled to leave for boot camp in 3 weeks. I told him that my brother might be able to show him the ropes, as long as he knew where he was stationed. Clark wrote down his unit’s address, and promised to give it to his older brother.
With summer break almost here, I was looking forward to the science fair. I had a chance to be the first sophomore to win and go to state. Clark told me my main competition was from Reseda, a kid who wowed the judges with his research in rockets.
My physics professor reviewed my project, and told me that recruiters from USC and UCLA would be at the science fair. Since he was a judge, he was allowed to highlight my project when I spoke to the assembly. Dad and Mom promised to be there, but my sister couldn’t get out of class.
The fair went well, and my project in cryogenics was well received. The kid from Reseda took the assembly out to the athletic field and sent a homemade rocket almost 500 feet in the air. I was very nervous at the banquet, waiting to see who won.
The judges declared a tie, between my project and the kid from Reseda. Both of us would be eligible to go on to Washington, D.C. for the national finals. The principal introduced me to the recruiters from USC and UCLA. They encouraged me to include more data and charts in my national presentation, and looked forward to talking to my parents and counselor.
As I left, Christine came up and told me how proud she was of me. She stated that no sophomore had done this well. I thanked her, and then she surprised me with a kiss! When we parted, I looked at her stunned! She turned red, and said “I’ve been trying to get your attention all year. I guess we just run in different circles.”
When I could think again, I said, “I don’t suppose you would like to go with me to the July 4th dance?” She hugged me and whispered “You bet!” She already knew I was going to be in D.C. until then. This summer looked to be full of promise.
My counselor advised me to keep a journal about my project, my summer, and my family. He told me this time of my life would never come again. I found some journals, and began to make weekly entries. The Korean Conflict seemed to stagnate, and when my brother’s letters stopped, Mom seemed to cry almost every night.
I finished 5th in D.C., but I was assured that I would had 2 more chances, since everyone ahead of me were seniors. My Dad took us all to the July 4th ball, and Christine was there with her family. We all sat together, and Clark sat behind me. He told me his brother was wounded and would be sent home next week.
I decided not to tell Mom. I danced with Christine, and actually managed not to step on her feet. Mom and Dad danced, and Mom looked happier than I had seen her since my brother left. Sis was there, and I was surprised to see her dancing with Clark. She spent the whole night asking about Clark’s brother, so Clark decided to stay in the “Friend Zone.”
I told Christine about Clark, my brother, and the nationals. I had met with three other recruiters, all from Ivy League schools. Christine told me she was going to run for class president, and she had been named head cheerleader. Since she seemed to be interested in me, I didn’t tell anyone we were an item before the ball.
Clark teased me a little, but I teased me about dancing with my sister. School was starting up in 4 weeks, so I spent the rest of the summer working as a bag boy at Spencer’s. I saved enough to afford the used Chevy that Dad had picked out for me. I took Christine out the last Friday of summer, and we had a great time at the drive-in movie.
My counselor met me after school the Friday of the first week. He seemed quiet, almost hesitant to speak. I sensed he had news, and probably not good news. My parents surprised me when they walked in to the office. My counselor showed me the telegram from the Army, verifying my worst fears. My brother had been killed in action, and saved his unit by refusing to leave his post. Dad opened up a large case, and the Medal of Honor was inside, with my brother’s name on it.
We all walked quietly to the car. The rest of the day was like walking in a slow dream. Clark came over and told me how sorry he was. His brother came in, and told me and my parents that he was one of the soldiers saved due to my brother’s courage. Dad smiled, but Mom just sobbed.
After Clark and his brother left, Dad mentioned that his body would arrive for burial at the veteran’s cemetery tomorrow.
Clark’s brother and my brother’s commander delivered eulogies, and Mom received the folded flag. The 21-gun salute was fired, and I heard Taps played as the sun set and the casket was lowered. I couldn’t bring myself to cry, but Mom didn’t want to receive the mourners. Dad and I did, and Sis was at home arranging for the wake.
I spotted Christine at the funeral and the wake, sniffling occasionally and looking at me sweetly. The wake seemed to go on forever, and Sis and Mom cleaned up. Dad took me into the garage, and helped me do an oil change while we shared our favorite memories of my brother.
I dragged myself to school on Monday. and as the last class finished, Christine was waiting by my car. She kissed me for what seemed like an hour, and hugged me even more. She told me how sorry she was, and I told her that my brother admired her and her family. As I drove her home, we laughed about the good times we had as kids. She kissed me again before she ran home.
I remembered that my brother had told me that I had what it took to go places. He said he would probably one day tell everyone about his smart and famous little brother. I smiled, and said, “Well, big brother, our family couldn’t be prouder of you!”
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