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Writing Prompt: Literary Reflections

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For each issue of Literary Mama, Literary Reflections shares a writing prompt, inviting our readers to respond. Our editors provide feedback on the responses we receive, and we post our favorites on the blog. This month's writing prompt is inspired by Cindy House's essay, Comfort in Stories.


In her essay, House describes how she checked herself into a psychiatric hospital for "one long winter" in 1990 while she experienced a debilitating clinical depression. When she eventually returned to her former life as an art student in Chicago, she writes it wasn't the meds or sleeping through the night that assured her recovery. Instead, it was a desire to read again, in particular stories about the Vietnam War in Tim O'Brien's classic work, The Things They Carried. House believes the book saved her:

Photo by Literary Mama photo editor, Heather Vrattos

"I needed to fall into something worse than my own reality. I needed perspective. I needed to understand that humans had survived far worse than depression and had even gone on to write about it."

Twenty years later, she tries to help her five-year-old son, Atlas, with his own growing anxiety and anger as he struggles with his parents' divorce and contentious co-parenting relationship. Hoping her son might find the same comfort in books that she did, House reads him Wonder by R.J. Palacio, about a boy with a severe facial deformity who must navigate the perils of fifth grade after being homeschooled his whole life. Atlas is transfixed by the book, empathizing with the hero's anger and heartache. House concludes:

"We all want to give our kids the benefit of lessons learned from our own lives. I could not tell my son how to navigate a divorce at his age . . . But I could show him that there is comfort in stories . . . that sad stories, which have nothing to do with our own in the details, can still show us the way."

Is there a literary story that has provided comfort to you or someone in your family by giving you a new perspective or making you feel less alone? We invite you to tell us about that story and its powerful impact.


Read House's essay and submit a 500-word response to this writing prompt by October 4, 2017, for feedback from our editors. Email it to LMreflections (at) literarymama (dot) com and note "September Prompt" in your subject line. Please do not attach the essay but paste the response in the body of the email.




Susan Bruns Rowe writes and teaches in Boise, Idaho. Her writing has appeared in The Louisville Review, The Clackamas Literary Review, Brevity, Creative Nonfiction, and elsewhereShe serves as profiles editor for Literary Mama and teaches creative writing for The Cabin, the Osher Institute at Boise State University, and other organizations. Susan has an MFA in creative writing from Boise State University and an MA in philosophy, politics, and economics from Oxford University.

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