“I remember…” is one of my favorite writing prompts. I have used it for my own writing, in my writing practice groups, and with students in more classes and workshops than I actually can remember.
I first discovered the prompt in Natalie Goldberg’s seminal writing book, Writing Down the Bones. More recently, I read Joe Brainard’s memoir, I Remember, a brief (only 160 pages) collection of random memories that reveal the poet, artist, and writer in a series of “I remember” fragments, some a single line, some a few sentences, none of them even a full page.
First published in 1975, the book, with its series of memories falling one upon the other, not chronologically, but through some intuitive logic is thoroughly enchanting and engrossing. Brainard concisely reveals the story of his childhood, the fifties, and the New York art scene he became part of. Each of these small “portraits” is captured in sentences beginning with the words, “I remember.” How familiar those words.
Of late, I have immersed myself in not only writing my own memoir, but studying the genre. Stacks of to-read, read, and to re-read books pile up on almost every flat surface in my apartment and my library card hasn’t been so well used since I was a kid. I’m a believer, and many of these books are proof, that memoir can take many forms, shapes, designs, and structures. I Remember is a stunning example of that truth.
Coincidentally, or maybe serendipitously, shortly after I read I Remember, a friend sent a link to an interview with Dani Shapiro, one of my favorite writers, a memoirist as well as a novelist and teacher. In the interview with Marie Forleo, Dani tells Marie that her favorite prompt, and one she gives all her writing students, is “I remember…” and then she tells of finding it in Joe Brainard’s book.
Joe Brainard and I grew up in the same era. While he moved from Tulsa, Oklahoma to New York where he became part of the New York School of poets and artists, my later years took me to San Diego, where I still am, still learning and remembering and writing.
You may have done it before, maybe even many times, but today devote a writing practice session to “I remember…” You never know what memory wants to be revealed.