Honoring Your Stories Anthology from the Durham County Library

The Honoring Your Stories Anthology is here! And today we celebrated the culmination of this project with a presentation and lots of chocolate cake.

The Honoring Your Stories Anthology is a compilation of work from the spring 2018 class at the North Regional Branch of the Durham County Library and it is a year in the making. The book includes eight stories and an introduction by me and was designed and printed professionally by Dave Wofford of Durham’s own Horse and Buggy Press.

The celebration was festive and reminded everyone of the hard work, joy and collaboration that had taken place inside the classroom walls. Writers brought friends and family to take part in the celebration and Board members and directors from the library were also in attendance. There were lots of requests for autographs. Congratulations to all of the writers featured who now have a keepsake copy of their work!

This project was a joy to complete. Special thanks to Jenny Levine, Humanities Adult Program Coordinator, who saw the potential in this project and helped make it a reality. Thanks to Annie Mountcastle Post, Grant Writer at the Durham County Library, who served as editor. This project was generously funded by The Durham Library Foundation and Durham County Library.

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A selection of photos from the Anthology Celebration

Clockwise from top left: featured writers Marilyn Christian, Liz McGuffey and Shirley Jackson show off the book; featured writer Mary White with her copy; Humanities & Adult Program Coordinator Jennifer Levine says a few words; DCL Director Tammy Baggett gets a signed copy from writers Liz McGuffey and Shirley Jackson.

I wrote an introduction to this book, and it’s re-printed below:

Introduction

by Allison Kirkland

 I love the first day of a creative writing workshop because I never know who is going to walk through the classroom door. I always arrive early to push two long tables together and line up ten chairs around the perimeter. It’s important that we are all sitting at the same table, almost like a family meal. Afterward I sit down for a moment of quiet to peruse the names on the signup sheet. Many times my former students will return, but there are always some new names. By the end of the class I’ll know the city they call home. I’ll know about their loved ones. Their favorite meal, their favorite gift, their favorite holiday. 

I’ve been teaching adult creative writing classes at Durham County Library – a place I loved as a child, a place that allowed me to travel to many different worlds through the books I read – since 2016. I’ve taught poetry workshops and family history classes, but the first writing class I ever taught with the library was a six-week creative nonfiction workshop called Honoring Your Stories at Durham County Library’s Bragtown Library Family Literacy Center. 

Designed by Dave Wofford of  Horse & Buggy Press

Designed by Dave Wofford of Horse & Buggy Press

I taught that class again in the spring of 2018, this time at Durham County Library’s North Regional Library. When these students began to trickle in to sit at our communal table I was excited for the stories they had come to write and honored to help them craft these stories. 

This class was comprised of students of all ages, from many backgrounds and races. They drove in from all over the Triangle. Some were new to writing. Some had written for years, even decades. They arrived with the expectation that they would learn from me, their teacher, sitting at the head of the table with lesson plans, and that they would also learn from each other.

The first day we went over introductions – our names, where we were from and one interesting thing about ourselves. I was already fascinated by the little bits of information they disclosed. They had come ready to write. They spoke generously and easily. Nobody was shy. 

To get our minds whirring on that early morning I began the writing portion of the class with a prompt. A week earlier in preparation for this class I had visited a paint store to gather a handful of paint swatches of all sizes, in colors ranging from deep purple to a muted green. I spread them out carefully on the table and told each student to pick one. “Write about what’s happening in the room painted that color.”

They were off! We wrote in silence for fifteen minutes, each student bent over a piece of paper. The class had officially begun. 

What does it mean to honor one’s stories? By crafting our stories with care and sharing them with one another, we exert our own worth and personhood. We lived at this time. These are the choices we made. This is what we treasured. This is what we found. This is what we learned. We gain control over our own narratives, see the past anew, prepare for the future. In a world so rushed, so bent upon busyness and productivity, we take time to say that our experiences matter. And we bear witness to each other’s lives. 

Throughout these six weeks we chose words and then erased them. We went over the words again. We chose new words. We moved paragraphs around. We listened to each other's work. What did we like? What stuck with us? We became better listeners. We began to listen like writers. Over and over again I witnessed the sense of pride and wonder that comes from creating something beautiful out of a previously blank page. 

One of the students thought that the class was only a one-time seminar, but she re-arranged her schedule so that she could attend all six weeks. One of the younger members of the class displayed an uncanny ability to get to the heart of each piece and the other students encouraged her to go back into teaching. Buoyed by the support of her classmates, one student decided to delve deeper into unpleasant memories she’d never written about, but that needed to get out. Students wrote responses to news events in the world around them as well as what was going on in their own lives. The personal became universal, as they recognized themselves in each other – in loss and celebration, in family and home. As each class ended they’d filter out of the room, echoes of “I’ve felt that too” or “that happened to me” bouncing along the vaulted windows of North Regional Library. 

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Six weeks flew by. On the last week of class they exchanged email addresses and phone numbers, planning to continue some informal gatherings in the summer months. The students were so proud that they suggested we create an anthology of the work they’d completed in class. 

I wish I could take you into these classrooms. There is a little bit of magic in every class. But this is the next best thing – an anthology of writing from Honoring Your Stories: A Creative Nonfiction Workshop from the spring of 2018 at Durham County Library’s North Regional Library. 

This anthology contains eight stories, all true, all crafted from the lives of these students. You can marvel over the creative choices they made - which words are the most effective? Which details are important? You can learn more about their lives – what’s important to them, what they think about.

These classes are important. During our final class, after reading a beautiful poem about her long-deceased mother, Mary, a nonagenarian, summed up her favorite part: "All of our stories are different, but in so many ways they are the same. In this class we share our humanity."

Durham County Library is a treasure, and I cannot thank them enough for this opportunity. On behalf of myself and the class of spring 2018, I hope that you enjoy these stories as much as my students enjoyed writing them. And I hope this anthology inspires you to pick up a pen, check out a book, or come take a class at the library.