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Meet Me at the Library

I love old photographs. You, too? I've got tons. Some have labels, and some don't. Scrupulously guarded in family albums for years, they have become utter mysteries. We're going to put words to images in this workshop. Some of the images will be photographs and some will be drawn from memory.

Above: Fanny Grundy, photographed in 1897 at the age of 107. Fanny was captured in Guinea as a child and sold to an Arkansas couple at the slave market in New Orleans. A great-great-great-granddaughter wrote down her story in a Pictures Into Words workshop in 2011. It is included in "A Woman's Legacy of Spirit, Love, and Fancy," by Dr. Lydia L. English, an autobiography based on ancestral portraits.


Pictures Into Words

What: A writing workshop led by Sara Tucker

Where: We will meet online (for now), hosted by Kimball Library of Randolph, Vermont

When: February 3 from 10:30 to noon Eastern Time—and other first Fridays through June

How to register: Contact Kellie@KimballLibrary.org.

What to bring: A photograph or a handful of photographs from your personal collection, and something to write with.


This is a fun workshop that, while aimed at novice writers who wish to record a bit of personal or family history, is also suitable for writers of every genre. In it, we will explore some of the key elements of story-telling.


We will start with images—actual photographs or mental images. Our first exercise will involve writing extended captions—descriptions of what we see. Here's my lesson plan for our first meeting. This online meet-up is my way of keeping in touch with my hometown and of sharing a few of my passions (story-telling, old stuff) with fellow enthusiasts.


Exercise 1


Start with a photograph, one that means something to you. It can depict anything, anything at all, as long as the image is one that holds meaning for you, even if that meaning is mysterious. Examples: A tree, a house, a barn, a horse, a dog, a car, a person, a group of people. Really, the possibilities are endless.


If you don’t have a photograph, conjure an image in your mind. Make it as vivid and as specific as you can. The image might be that of a person, a place, an animal, or an object. It might be big (a tree) or small (a teapot). Make it something you know well.



1. Take a few minutes to examine your photograph (or mental image, or object). Don’t write anything. Just look. What do you see? Try to see something you never noticed before, even if you’ve looked at this same picture 100 times.

2. Jot down what you see in the picture, making note of interesting details that another observer might miss. Identify relevant objects, if any. Don’t try to write great literature, just make note of what you see.

3. Now, tell us what is NOT in the picture. What do you, the observer, know that another observer might not know. If your picture is a landscape, what lies outside the frame? If it is a person, what do you know about that person’s life? If it is a car, who drove it? What sounds do you associate with this image? What smells? Include whatever facts you have, if any, such as names and dates. You can also include your relationship to the subject, e.g., “the house on Highland Avenue that my parents bought in 1945. This is the house where I lived as a child, from 1954 to 1972.”

4. Look at the photo again. Ask yourself: What is it about this particular image that draws me to it?How does it stir my curiosity, my imagination, or my emotions? What puzzles me about it? What questions does it raise? What mystery does it leave unsolved?


Things to think about:

1. What is history? What does that word mean to you?

2. What is historical bias?

3. Is there such a thing as an unbiased story?

4. Who decides what stories we will tell about our common past?

5. Who decides which parts of our common story will be preserved and which will be forgotten?


Exercise: What brought you here today?

Why are you here? What would you like to accomplish? What obstacles must you overcome in order to achieve your goal? Take a couple of minutes to think about your answer and then write it down in one or two sentences.

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