Craft of Writing Talk with Mitchell Jackson: Beginnings

Off Campus Online

Open to the public

/ Thursday


This event will take place online; learn more and register

“The beginning is the most important part of the work.” ―Plato, The Republic

“That had been the real beginning—the beginning of everything else.” ―Henry James

In an Art of Editing interview of her editor Bob Gottlieb, the incomparable Toni Morrison comments on the beginnings of her fiction: “Endings I always know, because that’s always what the book is about,” said Morrison. “The problem is getting there. I used to have these really awful beginnings—never really beginnings, they were starts.” What constitutes a strong beginning in prose? How is a beginning different from a start? What philosophies and rhetorical strategies can be employed in composing a compelling opening? Are the demands of a strong story beginning different from those of a novel; are the demands of an essay different from those of creative nonfiction? The lecture will attempt to answer these questions. It will include sample passages to foster a critical discussion of the principles and tools presented.


Mitchell S. Jackson’s debut novel The Residue Years (Bloomsbury) received wide critical praise. Jackson is the winner of a Whiting Award. His novel also won The Ernest J. Gaines Prize for Literary Excellence and was a finalist for The Center for Fiction Flaherty-Dunnan First Novel Prize, the PEN/Hemingway Award for Debut Fiction, and the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award. His honors include fellowships from the New York Public Library’s Cullman Center, the Lannan Foundation, the Ford Foundation, PEN America, TED, the New York Foundation for the Arts, and the Center for Fiction. His writing has been featured as cover stories for Time Magazine and Esquire Magazine, as well as in The New Yorker, Harpers, The New York Times Book Review, The Paris Review, The Washington Post Magazine, The Guardian, and elsewhere. His nonfiction book Survival Math: Notes on an All-American Family (Scribner) was published in the spring of 2019 and named a best book of the year by numerous publications, including NPR, Time Magazine, The Paris Review, The Root, Kirkus Reviews, Esquire Magazine, and Buzzfeed. Jackson teaches creative writing at the University of Chicago. Purchase Mitchell Jackson’s work here.