Two Writing Prompts for Students (and Faculty)


This is an announcement from Prose:

Dear students:

The platform that brought you #Write4Good invites you to participate in a new writing challenge. This one has a chance to make literary history.

Let’s take a look at the prompt:

It’s record-breaking time. Together, we are going to break the world record for longest book. 100-word minimum. When this challenge gets 15,000 entries, it will expire, and we will turn it into a book. Each entry will be its own chapter. The plot? It’s the first day of a zombie apocalypse, write a diary entry. Each contributor should share this challenge prompt with as many people as possible. If we break the world record, this will be read by people for generations to come. In fact, it’ll probably be read by people experiencing an actual zombie apocalypse.

Get writing and help us make history, right here.

NaNoWriMo just had a serious plot twist. Here’s the URL to participate:

Spread the word(s).

Until next time, writers!


Inspired by this idea, and hoping to prompt students to observe more closely and to consider more thoughtfully the country in which they are living, I offer this passage from Section 15 of the 1892 version of Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself” as a prompt:


The duck-shooter walks by silent and cautious stretches, 

The deacons are ordain’d with cross’d hands at the altar, 

The spinning-girl retreats and advances to the hum of the big wheel, 

The farmer stops by the bars as he walks on a First-day loafe and looks at the oats and rye, 

The lunatic is carried at last to the asylum a confirm’d case, 

(He will never sleep any more as he did in the cot in his mother’s bed-room;) 

The jour printer with gray head and gaunt jaws works at his case, 

He turns his quid of tobacco while his eyes blurr with the manuscript; 

The malform’d limbs are tied to the surgeon’s table, 

What is removed drops horribly in a pail; 

The quadroon girl is sold at the auction-stand, the drunkard nods by the bar-room stove, 

The machinist rolls up his sleeves, the policeman travels his beat, the gate-keeper marks who pass, 

The young fellow drives the express-wagon, (I love him, though I do not know him;) 

The half-breed straps on his light boots to compete in the race, 

The western turkey-shooting draws old and young, some lean on their rifles, some sit on logs, 

Out from the crowd steps the marksman, takes his position, levels his piece; 

The groups of newly-come immigrants cover the wharf or levee, 

As the woolly-pates hoe in the sugar-field, the overseer views them from his saddle, 

The bugle calls in the ball-room, the gentlemen run for their partners, the dancers bow to each other, 

The youth lies awake in the cedar-roof’d garret and harks to the musical rain, 

The Wolverine sets traps on the creek that helps fill the Huron, 

The squaw wrapt in her yellow-hemm’d cloth is offering moccasins and bead-bags for sale, 

The connoisseur peers along the exhibition-gallery with half-shut eyes bent sideways, 

As the deck-hands make fast the steamboat the plank is thrown for the shore-going passengers, 

The young sister holds out the skein while the elder sister winds it off in a ball, and stops now and then for the knots, 

The one-year wife is recovering and happy having a week ago borne her first child, 

The clean-hair’d Yankee girl works with her sewing-machine or in the factory or mill, 

The paving-man leans on his two-handed rammer, the reporter’s lead flies swiftly over the note-book, the sign-painter is lettering with blue and gold, 

The canal boy trots on the tow-path, the book-keeper counts at his desk, the shoemaker waxes his thread, 

The conductor beats time for the band and all the performers follow him, 

The child is baptized, the convert is making his first professions, 

The regatta is spread on the bay, the race is begun, (how the white sails sparkle!) 

The drover watching his drove sings out to them that would stray, 

The pedler sweats with his pack on his back, (the purchaser higgling about the odd cent;) 

The bride unrumples her white dress, the minute-hand of the clock moves slowly, 

The opium-eater reclines with rigid head and just-open’d lips, 

The prostitute draggles her shawl, her bonnet bobs on her tipsy and pimpled neck, 

The crowd laugh at her blackguard oaths, the men jeer and wink to each other, 

(Miserable! I do not laugh at your oaths nor jeer you;) 

The President holding a cabinet council is surrounded by the great Secretaries, 

On the piazza walk three matrons stately and friendly with twined arms, 

The crew of the fish-smack pack repeated layers of halibut in the hold, 

The Missourian crosses the plains toting his wares and his cattle, 

As the fare-collector goes through the train he gives notice by the jingling of loose change, 

The floor-men are laying the floor, the tinners are tinning the roof, the masons are calling for mortar, 

In single file each shouldering his hod pass onward the laborers; 

Seasons pursuing each other the indescribable crowd is gather’d, it is the fourth of Seventh-month, (what salutes of cannon and small arms!) 

Seasons pursuing each other the plougher ploughs, the mower mows, and the winter-grain falls in the ground; 

Off on the lakes the pike-fisher watches and waits by the hole in the frozen surface, 

The stumps stand thick round the clearing, the squatter strikes deep with his axe, 

Flatboatmen make fast towards dusk near the cotton-wood or pecan-trees, 

Coon-seekers go through the regions of the Red river or through those drain’d by the Tennessee, or through those of the Arkansas, 

Torches shine in the dark that hangs on the Chattahooche or Altamahaw, 


Patriarchs sit at supper with sons and grandsons and great-grandsons around them, 

In walls of adobe, in canvas tents, rest hunters and trappers after their day’s sport, 

The city sleeps and the country sleeps, 

The living sleep for their time, the dead sleep for their time, 

The old husband sleeps by his wife and the young husband sleeps by his wife; 

And these tend inward to me, and I tend outward to them, 

And such as it is to be of these more or less I am, 

And of these one and all I weave the song of myself.


I invite faculty and students to send lyrical portraits of their corners of America, in the style of this poem or some other more style that seems more appropriate to the details.

If I get enough response, I will post the complete poem under the title “Song of Ourselves.”


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