Kim Rensch, who attended Dr. Karen Hansen's presentation a few weeks ago, created a useful summary of Dr. Hansen's wisdom on portraiture. If you consider either assigning written portraits in your classroom or writing them yourself, consider this wisdom:
When Dr. Karen Hansen, author of Encounter on the Great Plains: Scandinavian Settlers and the Dispossession of Dakota Indians, 1980-1930, visited Fargo and led a writing workshop on the NDSU campus, she had us try our hand at writing portraits of a person we know. Dr. Hansen’s inspiration came from Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot’s book The Art and Science of Portraiture. Lawrence-Lightfoot’s website describes portraiture as a method of writing that is used “to document the culture of institutions, the life stories of individuals, stages of human development, essential relationships, processes, and concepts.”
Focusing on a particular moment, said Dr. Hansen, helps us to illuminate the person who is the subject of our portrait. We see that person in a moment, doing something typical, revealing quirks and habits, or capturing that person in a unique moment that stands out in time.
Portraiture could be used in longer works to stop the action and allow the reader to focus on a moment in a character’s life, revealing details about the character that might have otherwise been missed.
See examples of Lawrence-Lightfoot’s portrait writing here, and try your hand at writing your own portrait.
Call for Comments: Have you ever encouraged your students to use portraiture in their writing? If so, what advice did you give them?
Remember: You can comment on any October blogpost through October 31st to be entered in the drawing to win a signed copy of Winger by Andrew Smith!