Memoir Memories Collected: Suzanne Sherman Talks about Women’s Lives

by Matilda Butler on March 14, 2013

catnav-interviews-active-3Post #96 – Memoir Writing Tips – Kendra Bonnett and Matilda Butler

Memoir Writing and Memories Collected

Kendra and I have known Suzanne Sherman for several years. She is a fantastic writer and editor. When she recently told us about her most recent project that has resulted in a book, we asked her to share news about it with you. This just may give you new ideas for looking at your own family tree. Perhaps you might decide to pull together experiences from women in your family.

At the bottom of this article, Suzanne tells you what she’s going to cover in her second post for us.

100 Years in the Life of an American Girl—Part I

by Suzanne Sherman

Can you imagine chasing horse-drawn fire engines for fun as a little girl? If you had lived in the 1910s in New York like Mary Ann did, you probably would have. And what if you were born in the first years of the new millennium? Would you have wanted a cell phone for your tenth birthday, like Dylanne did, in 2008, or have texted over 12,000 texts in a single month?

Two years ago I conceived the book series “100 Years in the Life,” featuring first-person writings from around the country showing how life has been and is today. The first book in the series will showcase life for young girls throughout a century: “100 Years in the Life of an American Girl: True Stories 1910 – 2010.” It will publish later this spring.

Suzanne Sherman's new collective memoirThe seed for this book was planted 17 years ago, when I started teaching memoir in 1996. That year, my oldest student, Gertrude, was 89. She was British and wrote about trembling in her grandmother’s arms in a bomb shelter during World War I. In the 1940s she was a PR professional, one of the few women in the field at the time. I was impressed with her in every way, and sad when she died six years later.

Another student, Mary, grew up in a Jewish neighborhood in Brooklyn. She was also five years old in 1912, and her earliest memories involved helping out in the family “appetizing” store, where her immigrant parents spoke Yiddish with customers buying fish in the days before refrigeration. It wasn’t legal at that time for her mother, a new American citizen, to vote in this country, and later in her girlhood Mary saw women finally gain the right.

Beulah, a nanogenarian, wrote about her first day of kindergarten in 1918. A wind lifted her skirt, revealing her pantaloons. Dorothy wrote about the lit candles on her Christmas tree.

I was hooked. Since then I’ve gone on to teach memoir at colleges and universities, online and privately, at writer’s conferences, and more. I’ve worked with hundreds of people and read and helped thousands of stories be told.

But it was when I visited my brother’s family in Berkeley on New Year’s in 2011 and witnessed my 8-year-old niece show him how to do something on his computer that the seed of the idea for the book was planted: Too many stories of girlhood were vanishing with time, and the new stories weren’t being captured.

The book will be published this year: 100 Years in the Life of an American Girl: True Stories 1910 – 2010. Each of the ten chapters (the 1910s through the 2000s) will feature a handful of first-person stories about girlhood, showing the amazing timelessness and stunning differences in the lives of young girls through a century. I’ve collected over 60 stories for the book.

Here’s a taste of some of the stories in the book:

Florence’s dad bought his first car in 1910 from a door-to-door car salesman in Ohio

In the 1920s, Natalie watched the gas man light streetlamps in San Francisco

In New York Barbara’s mother cried when FDR died in 1945. She didn’t understand: “My mom didn’t even know him!”

Shannon played she was Elvis in secret in the bathroom with a guitar and a tube of Brylcreem in 1950s Michigan

Victoria went with her family to Woodstock in 1969

Nicole spent her allowance on video games like Ms. Pac Man in the 1980s in Arkansas

In Georgia in the 1990s Fiona got to be one of seven “land girls” at home in an “intentional community” — a group of people with shared values who live together

At 12 in 2008 Dylanne got her first cell phone — and an unlimited texting plan (12,400 texts was her biggest month)!

It’s been fascinating talking with these women and girls and collecting their stories for the book. Next week, I’ll share some about the racial histories that emerged in the stories in the book. You’ll hear about what happened with the KKK in the 1920s as it affected a Jewish immigrant girl in Indiana, about the experience of being the daughter of a Vietnamese woman and an American GI who moved to rural Georgia when Saigon fell in 1975, and more.

I’m thrilled to be close to publication and to finally be able to share these precious stories with the world. Through February and March I’m giving “sneak peeks” from every chapter at facebook.com/100yearsinthelife and at www.suzannesherman.com, so be sure to take a look.

And don’t miss it: In May there will be two drawings for FREE books and everyone who “LIKED” the Facebook page and subscribes to my NEWSLETTER is eligible (subscribe at www.suzannesherman.com). You may be the winner! Updates on publication and other specials are offered there as well.

Suzanne Sherman memoir writingSuzanne Sherman has been a magazine and book editor for 30 years, a memoir teacher for 17 years, and she’s a writing coach and blogger. She’s also a writing and publishing consultant and has helped put lots of wonderful memoirs and other nonfiction books into print.

Suzanne’s own book, 100 Years in the Life of an American Girl: True Stories 1910 – 2010, will be published in 2013 and will feature amazing stories of girlhood from around the country in every decade of 100 years. Visit her website at suzannesherman.com to sign up for her free newsletter and Facebook.com/100yearsinthelife for more about the book.

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