The following excerpts have been selected to introduce/reintroduce you to the art of writing personal narratives. They’ve been culled from larger bodies of work, including works created for the stage. They may not reflect the structure and style of a traditional college admissions essay. Their purpose is to highlight elements critical to crafting compelling personal narratives. This includes writing about real-life experiences in a fictionalized style. They all share the same backstory of growing up, fat, black, gay, bulimic, and with white parents in an all-white neighborhood.
There are few childhood experiences more memorable than my first visit to a black church, which also happened to be my first and only childhood experience of riding in cars with black people. Unless you count my brother Bret, in which case I’ve been riding in cars with half black people all my life.
As a child I often envisioned my funeral. I’d be laid out in a stunning casket surrounded by pleasing purple flowers and poisonous people. Clocks would stop; stores would close in my honor; flags would waver at half-mast; and buildings would be veiled in black bunting as highway emergency reader board signs flashed, “Funeral procession in progress: slow-moving traffic next 3,000 miles.” But there was a glitch in my plan that I couldn’t ignore. I couldn’t die yet — not until I was thin and beautiful. I kept imagining people laughing at my body in the casket.
What I remember most about that first stop was how he asked me, “Where are you headed?” Not, “License, registration, and proof of insurance, please.” But, “Where are you headed?”
“Western Washington University,” I reply.
“Oh, you must be headed up there to play ball.”
“Why yes,” I reply.
I’m not headed up there to play ball. In fact, I’ve never played ball. I’m just big and black. And when you’re big and black, everybody thinks you play ball. So rather than disappoint them, I just say yes and pray they don’t ask what position.
It is 7:45 in the morning on an already humid mid-August New York City day. And I am standing on the corner of 25th and 1st hailing my first cab.
“Where to?” he asks.
“The Village,” I say.
To which he responds, “What part?” as if I were to know the Village had parts.
Luckily I am a quick thinker, so I say, “The middle.” He now looks puzzled. Clearly we are at an impasse, prompting me to say, “Look, why don’t you decide where the middle is, and I’ll take it from there.”
New York City is a horrible place to be bulimic. It is like living in a mall food court, and not one of those rinky-dink mall food courts – an obnoxiously large mall food court. Think Mall of America, only instead of 500 retail shops, there are 500 food court vendors. I mean, where else can you get Greek, Italian, Chinese, Mongolian, African, and a million other delicacies all within 100 feet of your front door? For those days when 100 feet seems too far a commute? No worries. They all deliver free of charge.