Tuesday, May 22, 2012

WIT, WISDOM, AND MOSTLY TRUE STORIES


In my last blog, I talked about the writings of aspiring authors who had published some of their memoirs written in a Life Writing Class taught by Kim Graham at the New Iberia Library in New Iberia, Louisiana.  The book, Let Me Tell You A Story, has been selling like a Dave Robicheaux novel since its publication — it seems that the town of New Iberia turned out for a recent signing at the New Iberia Library, and class members may be doing a second printing.

Instructor Kim Graham has been teaching a similar class sponsored by the University of Louisiana at Lafayette since the 1990’s, which was originally taught by Joan Steer, an English teacher, and the late Ida Neezy who worked at Lafayette General Hospital.  This class has also published a volume of their reminiscences entitled Wit, Wisdom, and Mostly True Stories and can be ordered by clicking on the title.

The book includes memories of Hurricane Betsy, World War II experiences, Guatemalan adventures, travels in the Mideast, a family camping trip, and many other life experiences written after students received instruction in dialogue, character development, and other writing techniques.  Kim Graham calls her class members “incredible authors.  Through humor or tears, a story will emerge… with references to the past, ones that will be recognized by family or place…”

The authors include teachers, legislators, doctors, geologists, farmers, and people representing other vocations.  Many of the stories feature photographs, even paintings, to illustrate their memoirs.  The biographies of the writers at the conclusion of their stories are as intriguing as the stories themselves.
 
I was drawn to a story entitled “Texas Plumes” by Jean Sellmeyer Smith who included a poem at the conclusion of her vignette.  Her story is filled with sensual, concrete detail; e.g., her description of an old-time country meal prepared by her grandmother: “Three meats – clove-studded ham, crispy fried chicken, a pot roast with smooth dark brown gravy – every kind of fruit and vegetable in season, or in the storm cellar …bread and butter pickles, crisp and cold from a big clay crock – sweet tea in a frosty pitcher – fresh hot bread topped with home-churned butter molded in the glass swan mold…and from the wild muscadine cascading high over the back fence, a grape jelly as clear and deep purple as a brilliant amethyst…”  This story evoked memories of my Grandmother Nell’s country spreads that included plump butterbeans, sliced Big Boy tomatoes and cucumbers, and fried cornbread.

As I’ve written many poems and stories based on my life experiences, I can appreciate the feeling of “closure” a writer sometimes gets when he/she has spun a vignette that “places value on a moment in time,” as Kim says.  There’s something cathartic about penning a memoir.

Life Writing Classes provide a kind of creative synergy for students who long for self-expression, and some of the classes have been around for four decades.  However, in the last few years, advances in printing technology have allowed the publication of memoirs to burgeon — valuable life stories are being preserved for many generations.

Brava Kim Graham — and your students — for producing two colorful anthologies!
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