In order to write about your own identity, it’s helpful to approach it sideways or from many angles. Here are 10 prompts to get you going:
1. As the poet Bernadette Mayer suggests, write a work gazing into a mirror without using the pronoun I.
2. Write a work that attempts to include the names of all the things you have been called or have called yourself.
3. Write down a secret about yourself that no one else knows, and that you don’t ever want anyone to know. Detail it in at least one page.
4. Write an Index for your autobiography.
5. Write an Index for one of your parent’s autobiographies.
6. Write a poem as a letter from your mother/father to yourself. Try including something she/he/they long to tell you but has yet to do. Try including details from a time when you were young, whether or not you remember that time.
7. Write an obituary or a eulogy for yourself. Try different versions and different deaths. For example, one in which you die today at your present age, one in which you die ten years from now, one in which you die twenty years from now, and one in which you die in old age at, say, 85.
8. Read Rita Dove’s “Fifth Grade Autobiography.” Then, in a similar fashion, find a family photo and write your biography of/from/into it.
9. Write a poem titled “Self-portrait as _______.” Consider these for inspiration: “Self-Portrait as Mango” by Tarfia Faizullah; “Self-Portrait as Beast” by Frances Justine Post; and, “Self-Portrait as Kurt Cobain’s Muse” by Elizabeth Knapp.
10. Using Frank O’Hara’s “Autobiographia Literaria” as a model, write your own literary biography.