Promoting or looking for book clubs, calls for submissions, contests, or writing services? Community Postings

Preserving Memories in Snapshot Stories

Posted on Wed, Jan 17 2018 9:55 am by Karlyn Coleman


“I Remember” is a writing prompt I give students. I tell them to write down the snapshots that flash in their mind. Colors. Smells. Sounds. Memories captured on the page.

I usually work with teenagers, but a year ago I received a Minnesota State Arts Board Grant. As part of my community component, I traveled to Princeton, MN, and held a memoir writing class for seniors. I gave them this prompt and the memories the students shared were breathtaking. A man wrote about playing crack-the-whip on a frozen pond during the Great Depression. A woman wrote about the day her husband returned from the Vietnam War. And another student wrote about German prisoners of war that were forced to work in the potato fields just outside of Princeton. These snapshots contained not only beautiful and heartbreaking memories but also moments that allowed me to travel back in time and understand the town in a different light.

A few days after teaching this class, fellow Loft teaching artist Anika Fajardo and I met in a coffee shop. She’d been teaching a memoir-writing class at the Loft and we talked about the importance of our students sharing their stories. We saw how the sharing built community, created empathy, and helped the writers grow. As we talked, we became committed to the idea of helping students not only write their stories but share them. We realized that not everyone wanted or was able to write a 300-page memoir, but almost anyone could fill a 32-page book with snapshots of their life. 

Recently, Anika completed a book for her 94-year-old grandfather who is battling Alzheimer's. She discovered a treasure trove of emails and letters her grandfather wrote about his travels and his beloved cabin. Over just a few weeks, Anika harvested important memories and moments from her grandfather’s writing and put them into a bound book along with pictures, a timeline, family recipes, as well as a family tree. A Snapshot Story. Last week, she presented the book to her grandfather. He recognized the stories and pictures. They talked and reminisced as they turned each page.

Everyone has a story to tell—childhood memories, travel stories, parenting adventures, moments when everything suddenly changed. During our eight-week writing class at the Loft, not only will students write their stories, but they will also leave with a fully designed, professionally edited, full-color book filled with written memories, photographs, timelines, and other images they wish to archive. We will work one-on-one with writers and help them to curate their stories and pictures, as well as edit their work. Each student will receive two copies of his or her own book, and more can be ordered. Because we are committed to sharing stories, we have also set aside a day for students to invite family and friends to a reading at the Loft (May 20).

Join us. One paragraph, one story at a time. Snapshot Stories. Tuesdays 10 am-noon, March 6 – April 24, at the Loft Literary Center.


Karlyn Coleman was awarded a 2013 Minnesota Emerging Writers' Grant. Her stories have been published in or on Paper DartsMcSweeney'sCanvas, and Revolver. Her story, "Ice Roads" was awarded first place in fiction and published in Crab Orchard Review. She was a participant in the 2009-2010 and 2014-2015 Loft Mentor Series. With Anika Fajardo, she is teaching the upcoming class, Snapshot Stories, at the Loft Literary Center this spring.