by Denise Bike, guest blogger
This post is part of a HippoCamp 2022 recap series, with guest blog posts written by HippoCamp attendees. Learn more about our conference for creative nonfiction writers.
As a writer and reader of fragments and flash frequently frustrated by feedback that they’re just a draft, Lara Lillibridge’s session, Let the Fragments Be Enough: An Exploration of the Segmented Essay and Micro-Memoir, soothed my soul.
“I used to be called ‘prolific’” Lillibridge said, “until the pandemic hit, and I lost my words.” Her daily word count plummeted. Instead of trying to add her short pieces up to fit into the conventional forms she’d previously written in, Lillibridge embraced her fragments.
A fragment is its own entity, she assured us. An exploration of “how much you can take away and still have meaning. So the reader gets a glimpse and walks away having felt something.”
Fragments are part of the ‘short’ family: flash (800-1200 words), micro (~250 words), fragment (a sentence or a few). These small forms comprise a unique genre that adds up to more than just short versions of personal essays or CNF chapters that demand the writer state their meaning. The fragmented form communicates in conjunction with the content it holds.
A fragmented narrative serves not only its author, but a growing audience of readers. There is a market for fragments, Lillibridge showed us: Heating and Cooling, Brown Girl Dreaming, Notes from My Phone, and Dear Queer Self. Deconstructing these examples and others, she demonstrated the ways writers can use fragments. Fragments can stand alone, or they can add up to micro essays. Fragments can be collected into chapters that build into books or interspersed with longer essays in a collection.
Lillibridge had us craft our own fragments using a prompt from Athena Dixon, which includes vivid detail, what you do and don’t remember, what you wish you knew, and what you know for sure—an arc tracing interior space and welcoming the speculative. She showed us a method for compiling fragments into an essay: collect fragments into a single document as they arise from you, print them out and cut them up, move them around to find an appealing order. She showed us her book-compilation method: list the title of each piece, highlight its length or theme or place in the book’s arc in a different color, arrange for pacing and balance. Her session validated the fragmented form from generating through publishing.
Fragments (and, I would propose, all short forms) free the reader to connect, and make connections, as they see fit. As Lillibridge noted, “the spaces between [and within] fragments can remain empty.” Inviting the reader to share a moment with the writer and then to depart to determine what they uniquely make of it. What’s more universal than the human ability to make meaning of a shared experience?
A fragment is its own thing.