Writing in the AMWA galleries
Writing the West writers at the 2017 celebratory reading
Writing in the AMWA galleries
Writing the West field trip to Rocky Mountain Land Library
Writing the West field trip to Rocky Mountain Land Library
Writing the West field trip to Rocky Mountain Land Library

Writing the West at AMWA

Join us at AMWA for Writing the West, our monthly writing series combining art history, storytelling, and participants’ creative voices. To help inspire your writing, we’ll explore the Museum’s galleries, stopping to learn about specific paintings relevant to each month’s theme [see below]. After spending time with the paintings, you’ll be given a writing prompt from the Story Map, a storytelling model co-created by Writing the West instructor Dan Manzanares.

Throughout the session, you’ll have the chance to share what you wrote next to the painting that inspired you. Writing the West is open to writers of all backgrounds, genres, and skill levels, even those who’ve never written creatively before!

Check back here to find out what each month’s theme is and where on the Story Map we’ll be.

Each writer will have the opportunity to submit their work to be included in the season’s Writing the West anthology. In April we will host a Celebratory Reading of the anthology where writers can invite family and friends to watch them present their work in front of the paintings. Writers included in the anthology will receive a copy of the book and it will be displayed throughout AMWA’s galleries.

Upcoming Sessions

2023-2024 Writing the West themes:

September – Storm

October – Heroes & Villains

November – Heritage & Identity

December – Clothing: Material & Function

January – Storytelling to Scale

February – Setting the Stage

Dan Manzanares is an award-winning literary arts advocate and teacher who holds a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing from Western Colorado University. As an author and editor, he’s published community anthologies as well as a nationally recognized arts and culture community engagement toolkit. In 2021, Denver’s Mayor and City Council appointed Dan to the Denver Commission on Cultural Affairs, where he serves as co-chair. He’s a founding board member of the nonprofit Sidewalk Poets, and co-founder of Story Quest, a creative business teaching aspiring authors how to use the power of storytelling to unlock their imagination.

DIY Writing Prompts

Download writing prompts from previous sessions of Writing the West, and participate in this great collaboration on your own. 

Storytelling to Scale

The scale or scope of a scene—whether grand and expansive or closed in and tight—can influence a character’s thoughts and emotions, thus affecting a poem’s or story’s voice, its style. Use the
three paintings in the prompt guide to practice different combinations of scale and voice.

Download DIY Writing Prompt

Setting the Stage

When working on a painting, different artists use different processes. Some isolate themselves, while others form accountability communities; some do research and conduct interviews, while others embark on expeditions and create in the field. As you write using the prompt guide, reflect on which tactics might be the most beneficial for you as a storyteller and add them to your process.

Download DIY Writing Prompt

Heritage & Identity

Writers use setting to talk about more than just the qualities of a place. A character's identity and culture to name two. Follow the prompt guide and learn how setting drives the themes of a poem or story.

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Clothing: Material & Function

From buckskin to buffalo robes, to peace medals and cowboy hats, clothing's function can be practical, meaningful, or both. By using motifs, symbols, or devices, a writer chooses how to convey small details or big ideas. Download the prompt guide to practice each technique!

Download DIY Writing Prompt

Heroes & Villains

Heroes and villains, protagonists and antagonists, main characters and conflict characters. Use 'character arc,' defined in the prompt guide, to write a story or poem that challenges the binary nature of good guys versus bad guys.
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Storms, both literal and figurative, are great for motivating characters to take the initiative in their life and for choosing a new adventure that becomes their story. Follow the prompt guide, using these three paintings (or others) along the way, to write the beginnings of a story.
Download DIY Writing Prompt

Frontier Myths

Take a few minutes to look around the Museum. Choose a painting that catches your eye. Without looking at its title or who painted it or when, write a list of slogans you believe most captures the painting’s essence. 
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Hidden Symbols

In this painting we are witness to a sea of life. Hays was a known documentarian, so we can trust the accuracy of the depiction of the massiveness of this herd. Yet, amidst all this life we are forced to deal with a lone buffalo skull. Its symbol cannot be denied: death.
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Parlors and Tunnels

Visit one of the Museum’s three Victorian parlors and observe its contents. Traditionally, the Victorian parlor was a space dedicated to a property owner’s worldliness. It was filled with curiosities, international oddities, exotic book collections, and more. Write a scene describing a character’s parlor. What’s in it? Books and bird skulls, astrolabes and fine furniture? What’s its mood? Brooding, erudite, celebratory? What do we learn about this character?Download DIY Writing Prompt

Progress & Protest 

Look at the image of Jessy Bushyhead and consider how Native Americans were asked/told/forced to assimilate to American customs. Then, turn that same lens inward and look at how you are asked/told/forced to assimilate to the West. Is it through the media, laws, food, clothing, religion, transportation, war? Is there a Way of the West? If so, do you subscribe to it?
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 Western Color Palette

Think about the colors you’ve witnessed as being most prevalent in the Mountain West, Southwest, or West Coast and create a color palette of one of these regions. Then, pick a painting whose subject matter looks to be from the same region. Is its color palette similar or different than what you described? Write down your observations.
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 Working the Mine

Choose a painting that strikes you in some way. Mine the painting of its details, such as colors, composition, subject matter, theme, or all of the above. If it helps, make a list of your findings. Then, use the heat of your imagination to smelt out a piece of writing from this ore. If there’s time, use the same raw materials to write another piece, only this time use a different genre, or a different form within the same genre as your delivery method. What do you notice? What happens, if anything, when you switch forms using the same material?
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Western Syntax

A very simple definition of syntax is: the word order of a sentence. One example of how a writer uses word order for her benefit is by having the sentence’s final word carry the most weight. (Ex: “Vini, vidi, vici.” ~Julius Caesar) But can a region possess a signature syntax? 
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