Thanks to the efforts of his creative wife Vivian, on May 9 this year, about thirty people helped Don Duncan eat his words.
We were all gathered at the Whitehall Public Library in Whitehall, Pennsylvania to celebrate the conclusion of The Power of Memoir, an eight-week series of classes that I had the pleasure of leading. Each week a dozen eager students gathered for two hours to learn a few pointers from The Heart and Craft of Lifestory Writing. During the class, they read stories based on their assignment for the week.
Each week we had a predictably wide spectrum of stories. Some, like the one about a woman’s first date with the undertaker who became her husband, had us howling with laughter. Stories about growing up in foster care touched our hearts. We shared memories of growing up around the South Hills region of metropolitan Pittsburgh, holidays, and other aspects of life.
At the conclusion of the class, students brought their favorite stories to a Saturday morning event at the library and read them to friends, family and library patrons. Mary Kay Moran, the librarian who arranged for the class, provided a magnificent continental breakfast, and the crown jewel of the occasion was the cake you see above.
Don Duncan had read a story, “Singing Brings Joy.” His wife, Vivian, surprised everyone with the cake you see above. She knew which story he planned to read. She took the story file to her favorite grocery store’s bakery and had them print the first and last pages on special edible rice paper with edible ink. She explained that this is the same process they use to print pictures and other messages not formed with the traditional piped icing.
“You put the icing on the cake and immediately put the printed rice paper on top. If you order a cake, they’ll do this for you. I bake my own. It’s important to put the paper on as soon as you finish spreading the icing so the oils in it ‘melt’ the rice paper right into the surface. If you wait too long, it won’t react correctly, and the paper just sits on top.” She told us they’ll print anything and just charge you for the printed page, as long as you assure them no copyright violation is involved.
We enjoyed each story we heard that morning, and then we enjoyed eating Don’s.
As predictably happens with such a class, the group wanted to keep meeting to write and read together. The library agreed to provide space and Mary Kay has taken the lead to facilitate the group. I look forward to stopping by for a visit once in awhile.
I was excited to hear last week that a similar group is underway at the Community Library of Allegheny Valley in Natrona Heights north of Pittsburgh, led by Caitlin Bauer, one of the librarians there. I was especially thrilled to learn that Caitlin is using a leaders manual I prepared a couple of years ago to help libraries around the county start these groups.
I published that manual under a Creative Commons license, making it available for free for anyone who wants to start a group. I put no restrictions on its use, though I hope all groups will be open to anyone who wants to participate without restriction based on gender, etc. I do realize that organizations like Senior Centers may have age restrictions, but beyond that, in my opinion, diversity is the key to the success of these groups. So far more than a dozen groups have validated that it works.
You don’t have to be a strong or experienced writer to lead a group. The manual includes an outline for a six week workshop to get people started. Beyond that, people learn from each other. The leader’s main role is making initial arrangements and keeping people focused on their written stories rather than reminiscing during meetings.
If you are interested in starting a group, send me an email and I’ll be happy to send you the pdf file and answer any questions you may have.
Write now: 1) Be adventurous. Send for the Leaders Manual and use the suggestions for finding a location and group members. This will be one of the most rewarding things you’ll do this year. Start planning now to start a group this fall.
2) Bake a cake and let somebody eat his or her words – or yours.