I teach memoir and life story writing. Reading my students’ stories has given me a peek into the lives of those who’ve fought in wars or made ends meet on the home front; and of little girls who wandered along wooden floors in an old dime store, accompanied by the slightly sour aroma that emanated from the lunch counter one side of the store.
My students have written of childhood dinners with the famous, or how they overcame a complex challenge. I learned about the life of a devastating, giant Boston fire through the life of a trolley driver, in a tribute written by his daughter. In these classes, I get to experience the richness of life behind the headlines, and believe me, that’s the most riveting view.
Leaving a Legacy
Life stories are among the most significant legacies anyone can leave to their children and grandchildren. I wish my deceased relatives had written down the events and circumstances of their lives: what it was like when their home was moved from the quiet Florida neighborhood they’d lived in for half a century to make way for a broad, new highway. Or, how they treated certain illnesses. They certainly didn’t visit doctors as often as we do these days.
We’re Not Talking Autobiographies—Necessarily
Autobiographies begin the day you were born (or close to it) and continue up to the present. Memoirs cover a chronological period in your life, like your teen years, or a subject, like all the jobs you’ve held. Life stories are more like little true tales (although some can run for many pages).
You’ve Got Stories to Tell
Everyone’s got good stories. They’re the anecdotes you’ve told friends, who’ve said, “Wow. You should write that down.” They’re those jokes a relative told at Thanksgiving that made you laugh till you almost upset the green beans.
They’re about the houses you’ve lived in or the pets you’ve loved.
Stories from your life can be about the spot-on advice you got when you desperately needed it. Or about the lousy advice you had the good sense to ignore. Your stories can be humorous. They can be prose or poetry—or even fictionalized. (One of my students is completing a mystery novel based on his work as a security guard.)
Your stories can retell incidents from your past that you’ll never forget, or slices of your family’s history.
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