Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Characters Near You

What are the stories close to home? The real places and people you pass every day but may know only half their true dimensions? We give you license to explore those stories in a new workshop starting next month at the Hill Center, Researching and Writing Neighborhood Profiles. It’s intended for people interested in either a broad portrait of a neighborhood or a sharper picture of individuals at the core of that place.

That’s because sometimes you get a snapshot of a whole neighborhood through one person, and sometimes through several people. Years ago when Rick Peabody and Lucinda Ebersole ran Atticus Books on U Street I’d stroll along there, admiring the Duke Ellington mural and the Lincoln Theatre looming above. But I didn’t really know anything about either until I wrote a profile ten years ago for DoubleTake magazine (R.I.P.). For that my interviews included a local historian, a resident’s granddaughter, an artist, Ellington himself (okay, I settled for his memoir) and Atlantic Records founder Ahmet Ertegun. I could hear in Ertegun’s voice how U Street’s people and places gave him an education in life. I got to share that conversation more fully later, in the Washington Post Outlook.

In some cases you might find a neighborhood portrait through a sort of chorus of shared remembrances centered on a key episode or legend. Not long ago, a play and film about the people involved in saving Woodlawn cemetery in Southeast DC showed that power. DC neighborhoods like Deanwood have been gathering their stories with help from the DC Humanities Council’s DC Community Heritage Project.

We’ll see how to tease those stories out through interviews, historical records and online research (better now than ever), and how to put them together. We’ll practice shaping the narratives for sharing online, in print and in film. The workshop will draw on my own experiences using these methods in magazine essays, books and documentaries, including some explored in making Soul of a People, my 2009 book and the documentary I produced with DC filmmaker Andrea Kalin about the 1930s Federal Writers’ Project, which pioneered local history and oral history.

I’m looking forward to what we find out. Hope to see you at the Hill Center later this month!

--David Taylor

Sign up for David's workshop, Researching and Writing Neighborhood Profiles, today!

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