Aphorisms from Harvard Summer School’s JOUR S-137 Feature Writing Class

The course description for JOUR S-137 Feature Writing, taught at the Harvard Summer School by Kansas City Star columnist and Nieman fellow, class or 2017, Jeneé Osterheldt, says the class will focus on reporting and writing techniques that “lead to stories that sing with rich detail and narrative style.” The aphorisms Jeneé’s students produced during my workshop with them demonstrate just how much rich detail and narrative panache can be compressed into a single, well-crafted sentence. Aphorisms in general—and these aphorisms in particular—read like abbreviated short stories. Just as in a journalistic feature, in an aphorism writers have to sketch in context and back story with a few quick, deft touches—a concise description here, a striking image there. From that small cluster of details, the reader becomes the accomplice of the writer in unspooling the narrative from its aphoristic core and constructing its meaning. That’s what make a good aphorism sing, and it’s what makes these aphorisms swing…


Annie Sandoli

A feeling is either the salt in the ocean or the sun in the rain.

The difference between a seed and a rock is potential.

Anne-Sophie Galli

You don’t need eyes to see.

A lack of time makes people creative.

Stephanie Hazelwood

Eating McDonald’s will satisfy your craving not your hunger.

Coffee without caffeine is wasted energy.

Karina Alexander

A caged lion cries at the thought of being free.

The greatest freedoms one can have are a pen and a strong opinion.

Kate Millar

A house in a neighborhood can only see the houses next door.

Every thread fears being unpicked.

John Glasfeld

Learn to swim before learning to sail.

There are times to swim and times to float.

Kimberly Rufen-Blanchette

Light shines brightest when impeded.

A prism of light starts small.

Madeleine Schaffer

When the last brick is laid, the building collapses.

Circles are squares in HD.

Mara Moettus

Summer needs winter to give it a name.

A haircut is the least painful measure of time.

Mindy Koyanis

Not every scene on screen is seen.

Use writer’s blocks for building.

Nate Swope

If nobody saw it, it never happened.

Bullets don’t discriminate.