“In the particular is contained the universal.”
What a rich array of resources and articles we’ve got this month! Let’s dive right in, shall we?
Stories Come in Many Forms
In an exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago, Al Solh’s ongoing series of drawings—or as she prefers to call them, “time documents”—emerged from deeply personal encounters and conversations between the artist and Syrian refugees, as well as other forcibly displaced people. “After five years of continuing this work, I am more aware of how faces tell a story that is as powerful as each person’s story, their ideas about life, aspirations, and how we can go on, wherever we have ended up." I wish I were closer and could see the work in person, but this gallery of images is quite inspiring.
Ellie Kahn of Living Legacies Family Histories in Van Nuys, CA, is working with an illustrator to transform one client’s personal stories into comics! See some sample strips, by cartoonist Ben Evans, here.
A LIST OF LISTS?
Sometimes it’s not a long narrative that most interestingly tells your story, it’s a simple list. I explore how to use lists to add texture to a life story book, including a list of list-writing prompts geared at family historians, plus some sample spreads from my personal library.
MORE THAN WORDS
Memoirs consist primarily of narrative. But they can also serve as a medium for artwork, poems, songs, toasts, and other bits of memorabilia that represent your life. Massachusetts-based Nancy West shares ideas from the pages of books she has produced.
Tips, Tenements & Time Travel
WRITING LIFE STORY
Sarah White of First Person Productions in Madison,WI, shares a powerful writing exercise from the most thumbed-though, sticky-noted book in her memoir writing library, Your Life as Story by Tristine Rainer. Definitely check it out—I can say from experience Rainer’s tips are beyond useful, and often surprising in what they elicit in your writing, and White features a gem here.
The initial rationale for funding a personal history project may be to share the subject’s life with grandchildren or great-grandchildren—but, writes Jim Michael of the Personal History Center in Lilburn, GA, “We can never predict who may eventually see it and how it may influence those who view or read it.” Send your life story on a time voyage.
Brianna Audrey Wright, who calls herself a “storyteller of bygone days” and specializes in Nebraska, Iowa & South Dakota family history, offers up two recent blogs of interest: “Names and records are wonderful and necessary, yes, but it’s that dash between birth and death that’s so fascinating,” she writes in “Genealogist or Family Historian?” In another post, she contemplates the question: What is a legacy in the digital age?
NEW YORK NARRATIVES
It took 10 years and hundreds of hours of interviews to create NYC’s Tenement Museum’s latest exhibit, which chronicles the lives of three post-World War II families who once lived in the building at 103 Orchard Street. “Under One Roof” isn’t a straight work of architectural preservation—rather, it is both a reversion and a reinvention, preserving a space in order to preserve the stories of the people who once occupied it, as a way of telling the story of America.
“WHAT CAN I SAY THAT HASN’T BEEN SAID?”
A conversation with her father prompted Olive Lowe to reflect on why we should tell our stories, even when we think they’re simply not original. “It’s true that most of the items we could list on our ‘life resume’ are on someone else’s too,” writes the Mesa, AZ–based personal historian. But it’s not the what that matters as much as everyone’s personal why.
...and a Few More Links!
- The New York Times addresses How to Preserve Your Family Memories, Letters and Trinkets in the Smarter Living Section.
- The obituary that Jean Lahm wrote about her father told his story and made people laugh a little, too—and made strangers miss a man they never knew.