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A Baltimore Atrocities Writing Exercise from John Dermot Woods

A Baltimore Atrocities Writing Exercise from John Dermot Woods


This week, John Dermot Woods offers a prompt themed to his new book from Coffeehouse Press, The Baltimore Atrocities. You are invited to share your response to the prompt in the comments. Next week, John will choose one of the responses and send a signed copy of his book to the writer.

The word atrocity can suggest something that is foreign, removed. We owe it to ourselves and our neighbors to become intimate with atrocity, to remember that it is close and that it comes in all shapes and sizes. Here’s an exercise in bearing witness to atrocity:

1. Go somewhere in your own city or town, a place you go to or go by often.
2. Write down a list of ten people and objects that you observe in that place. (2 min.)
3. Circle one of these people or objects.
4. Write its (or hers or his) name on another sheet of paper.
5. Consider what experience haunts this person or thing more than any other. Think of the memory that comes forward and makes the person or thing turn cold even in the most hopeful moments.
6. Describe the moment in one sentence. (2 min.)
7. Write down seven questions about that moment. (2 min.)
8. Answer those questions. (5 min.)
9. Write about that moment without stopping or thinking for 8 minutes.

This is your testimony.

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