Sara Tucker, standing, Idora Tucker, right
Today we have a guest post written by Sara Tucker, author of The Hale Street Gang and Me blog. In this post, Sarah tells the story of the origins of the Hale Street Gang, a remarkable group of life writers that I discovered last fall when I visited the remarkable show of their work at the Vermont Folklife Center in Middlebury, Vermont. After viewing the exhibit and surfing Sara’s blog, I was so impressed with what they have accomplished, I had to know more.
In the fall of 2008, my mother and I signed up for a memoir-writing class at the senior center in the little town of Randolph, Vermont. Six weeks later the class ended, the instructor left, and we were on our own. Because I am a professional writer, the others decided that I would be their leader. At 56, I was the youngest in the group by about 30 years.
Since then, the members of the Hale Street Gang (as we now call ourselves) have published seven books and started a blog. We’ve read our work on college campuses and on the air. We’ve toured the state in partnership with the Vermont Folklife Center, encouraging other seniors to write down their stories. We’ve been a hundred times more prolific and had way more fun than we ever imagined on that September morning when our first class convened.
I asked one of the members to help me account for our success, and she came up with the following explanation, which happens to mention me several times. It should be noted that the writer is my mother, Idora Tucker. Mom gave me strict orders not to omit the paragraphs about Yours Truly (I wouldn’t dare). Here’s what she wrote:
“We are a diverse group of oldsters. We write during the week and read the results to one another in our weekly gatherings, allowing time for discussion of each manuscript and encouragement for each writer. We expect regular attendance, bringing some writing to the group each week. It is understood that what we read to the group will not be shared any further without the permission of the writer. We have no firm assignments, although we occasionally do a writing exercise for fun and inspiration. Our focus is on telling the stories of our own lives as we remember them.”
My mother then goes on to enumerate our accomplishments thus: “Early in our history a high school friend of Sara’s, well-known professional photographer Jack Rowell, became interested in our group. He and Sara teamed up with the Vermont Folklife Center to mount an exhibit of our work. Starting with that project Sara became our volunteer general manager. Not only does she lead the weekly meetings of the writers, but she is also our publicist, our chief fund-raiser, and the coordinator of everything we do. Sara edited an anthology entitled The Hale Street Gang: In Cahoots and arranged for its publication. She helped me to publish four small volumes of my memoirs, written for my children and grandchildren. Another member has published a memoir about bringing up her daughter, born with Down’s syndrome. Our Gang meets with various groups to present our work; Sara arranges these events. In addition, she has published her own memoir, Our House in Arusha, We consider ourselves a success, not only in terms of our output, but also judging from the fact that we are still meeting, still growing in numbers, and receiving increasing recognition. And our work is selling!
“Most of us have thought that no one would be interested in our writing. Not true. We have thought we could not write. Also not true, as we all have found out when we sit down to write. Details that we thought we had completely left behind come crowding back, wanting to get into the manuscript and to be shared with our small group. In the process we learn not just about our fellow writers, but about ourselves. I am finding it to be one of the most rewarding activities of my old age.”
My mother, who is 90 and brings several new pages to the group every week, offers this advice to aspiring memoirists of any age:
- Everyone has a story to tell.
- A writers’ group will help you to keep writing.
- Any group will eventually fall apart without a leader.
To learn how to lead a life-writing group, I picked up a few books, including Telling the Stories of Life through Guided Autobiography Groups, by gerontologist James E. Birren and Sharon Lippincott’s The Heart and Craft of Lifewriting. Shortly after I discovered Sharon’s book, she discovered the Hale Street Gang and introduced herself to me via our blog. Talk about serendipity.