I’ve always said that everyone has a story to tell. One of the endeavors I’m most proud of has been helping people tell their stories in books with short print runs but high production value. As part of the StoryMakers family, I’ve edited numerous memoirs, starting with Then & Now, by Kay Vickers.
At 75, Kay began writing her autobiography to fulfill a childhood dream to write. She had been born in 1916 in the deep South, where everyone in town knew her when she walked down the street. As a very young woman she left her roots to make a new life for herself in Boston. There she obtained a job as an editor for the Atlantic Monthly, allowing her to be in contact with many of the great minds of her time. In Boston she also married and started a family. They became the center of her life. As Kay worked on the ending few chapters of her manuscript she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Her book then became a lifesaver, because she had a meaningful activity to put her end-of-life energies into, and the support, through StoryArts, to see it to completion. And then, at the close of her life, her husband and care facility nurses would read her life story to her, reminding Kay that her life was based on the story of a remarkably intelligent woman who was a substantial contributor to her family and community.
Jimmy Mitchell was only 25 when he was killed in Vietnam, and his daughter, whom he never met, was only six weeks old. Thirty-two years later Jan, his wife, wrote a memoir based on her memories of him and their young life together. She included photographs of precious heirlooms, keepsakes and family pictures, in order to tell his story fully for their daughter, now a mother of three. Jimmy was such a respected and beloved member of his community that as the book began to unfold, it took on a life of its own. Many of Jimmy’s buddies and commanding officers from around the United States came forward to support Jan and honor Jimmy. The local community college invested in printing 200 copies in order to teach The Last Stamp as part of its history courses.
I had a tough time not crying all the way through Loss, Liberty and Love: My Journey From Essen to Auschwitz to the United States, by Horst Cahn.
When Horst came to StoryArts, he wanted to know if we could help him put his book into print at Kinkos. He had a handwritten version of his life that he had written in English at a weekly local Adult School class. It was the story of his childhood years in a Jewish family, in his hometown of Essen, Germany, followed by the journey his life took when he was 16 and he, his mother and father were sent by train to Auschwitz, where they died in the ovens. Somehow Horst managed to survive for three years, and also survived one of the deadliest of the Nazi Death Marches. Upon his liberation Horst met and fell in love with a young farm girl who came to his rescue. He married Giesl and they immigrated to the United States where they had a family and he ran a successful deli in his newly adopted home-town of Encinitas. As StoryArts consortium members read his story we knew it needed to be in a high-quality bound book, if at all possible; however, he did not have the funds for such an endeavor. We were fortunate to find a graphic book designer who was converting to Judaism at this time, because she generously offered to donate her services.
Horst had many printings of this book produced, which he made available when he spoke to local groups about his years in Auschwitz.
Despite the hardships he endured, after editing Horst’s book, I can tell you that the theme was one of thanksgiving. He said, “I don’t want to dwell on the cruelty … but I want you to know we have an obligation to see that this never can or will happen again.”
StoryArts, Inc. was the vision of Lois Sunrich, our founding director, and a small, intimate Board of Directors devoted to celebrating life’s stories. I had the privilege of being a member of the Board for several years. We incorporated in October 2000, in order to create a nonprofit organization of life story writers, interviewers, editors, graphic designers, book artists, printers and binders who could provide custom memoir publishing and community story art projects to the community.
I’ve also edited dissertations, textbooks, novels and other books.