Public Libraries have a special
place in the hearts of writers
--and readers. In a society full
of boundaries, they are also some
of the last spaces open to everyone, places where people from all walks of life can push open those doors and enter. They are portals into alternate universes, real and imagined, far away and right across town. And they're quiet. We couldn't think of a more perfect place to gather and write together.
Going public is the final step in the process. Each writer from a workshop series has the option (very few choose to opt out) of contributing a story to an anthology. For many, these books, edited by the instructor, represent the first chance to be published and work with an editor. A public reading celebrates the launch of the book. And additional public readings at literary events are also possible. These books are like written portraits of the community, and help to put names, faces, and lives to the neighborhood.
Where does the funding come from?
Funding comes from grants, community organizations, and Friends of the Library groups. The Tomales Bay Library Association funded the first Project at the West Marin Library in Point Reyes Station. A Koshland Arts & Culture grant from the San Francisco Foundation funded a workshop series at the Berkeley Public Library, and the Berkeley Public Library's Friends of the Library funded two more series there. A CalHumanities Community Stories grant funded the Project at the Temescal branch of the Oakland Public Library.
What is Community Memoir?
A community memoir is made up of the individual stories of the people who live in a community, and is based on the idea that gathering together to write our stories is a powerful and revelatory experience that also produces powerful and revelatory writing. The Community Memoir Project provides free memoir-writing workshops in public libraries and community centers to provide tools and a forum for people to write, reflect on, value, and share their personal stories. Each workshop produces an anthology which serves as a portrait of the community and a vivid history of real lives. These books, written in public spaces by writers of all ages and abilities, are creating a kind of history of the rest of us.
What is Not Community Memoir?
Community Memoir is not oral history, though it shares some of the same goals and gifts. The process of writing one's life stories, rather than speaking them, adds layers of reflection and context to these stories. Participants in the Project's writing workshops write to a series of exercises designed to broaden their view of their own life, and re-see stories they may have told or heard their whole lives. It is our belief that anyone with the desire to write can write, and the Project is also here to foster the art and craft of literature, to share some of the skills to make a want-to-be writer into an am-writing writer, or an already-writing into a more-confident writer.
Who is Community Memoir?
Who attends these workshops and writes these stories? People just like you. Participants come from every age, walk of life, and level of writing experience. They are people who like to write, or think they might like to write, or used to write, or always wanted to write. A few have published stories before, but most have not. They find out about the workshop through posters at their local library or community organization, or through the library's online events listing.
One of the wonderful aspects of this program is the opportunity to get people in a range of ages and backgrounds in the same room, writing and sharing their stories. A recent workshop in Berkeley, CA attracted people 20 through 80, who wrote about their memories of California's Japanese-American internment camps; small-town 1950s Mississippi when Emmet Till was murdered; stories handed down from a grandfather who'd served as a bodyguard for Mao in China; growing up on the streets of Berkeley in the 1980s; and the struggles of being a new mom in a foreign country in 2013
"These diverse memoirs are working together to create a more complete history—an oral yet written history of myriad voices living as members of this community, and in this area, during this time."
Linda Ivey, Ph.D.Chair of the History Department, and Coordinator of the Public History Program at Cal State University, East Bay
Rebecca Prophet, Curtis Estes, Janice Mason, Frances Lefkowitz, Mei-Ling Pastor, Roopa Ramamoorthi 2016 LitQuake