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In my MASS436 Specialized Writing class at MSU-Mankato on Monday, I introduced students to ekphrasis — writing about art. We had been talking about different types of arts/cultural writing and anytime I can bring up ekphrasis, I will!

I’ve always loved art — I have fond memories of 7th-grade art class with Mrs. Hobert at Waseca Middle School. She had posters of famous prints around the room, and one I remember distinctly is Caravaggio’s “Conversion on the Way to Damascus”:

As a writer, I’ve long been intrigued by documenting my reaction to art. One of my first attempts was this essay, which was inspired when I saw Frida Kahlo’s “The Suicide of Dorothy Hale” at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. I’ve been waiting for the same type of inspiration to strike since then. I may be one and done…ha!

Ekphrasis is a term generally associated with poetry, but as a nonfiction writer I’m most interested in the ekphrastic essay or ekphrastic nonfiction book.

The following are my recommendations for further reading.

* Blue Arabesque: A Search for the Sublime by Patricia Hampl. Love, love, love. This book cultivates envy within me — I want to be able to write like this!

* Strange Fruit: The Biography of a Song by David Margolick. Intrigued, I picked this up at a used bookstore a couple of years ago. I’m embarrassed to say I haven’t gotten beyond the first few pages but I’m committed to changing that soon. The notion of writing a biography about a song appeals to me.

* Half in Shade: Family, Photography, and Fate by Judith Kitchen. Kitchen uses photographs as the basis for her essays.

* “Prologue to a Sad Spring” by Brenda Miller. This is a great example of flash nonfiction ekphrasis.

What nonfiction ekphrasis do you recommend? I want to add to my list!

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