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Supplying the Bricks of History
Writing Women's Life Stories
An article by Jone Johnson Lewis, Women's History Guide
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Book Review

Cameo Life Stories Writing Guide for Everywoman
Deborah Hansen Linzer
ISBN: 0-9674820-0-3
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Have you ever wished that you knew more about the lives of women in your own family -- great-grandmothers, grandmothers, mothers, aunts?  Have you lived in interesting times, or done interesting things with your life?  Do you have thoughts about how the events of the world around you have affected your life?  Then this might be the book for you.  Write your life story -- as an exercise in self-affirmation, and as a way of documenting the life experience of Everywoman.  That's the premise of this guide book that may convince you to take on this task.

I had the pleasure of meeting the author, Deborah Hansen Linzer, and her quiet, intense passion for documenting our lives was immediately apparent.  Her two messages, in person and in the book, are these:

  • You make history
  • You are very important

Or, to put it more formally, "The underlying premise of Cameo Life Stories is that every woman is important; every woman is valuable; every woman makes history." (p. 131)

The idea presented is this: guided by a questionnaire (included), each woman is encouraged to write a summary of her life experiences.  Then the summary may be filed with The STORIES Center, a not-for-profit organization.  The writer determines how private the stories are: whether her name can be revealed, for instance.  The National Museum of Women's History Board of Trustees has supported this project, and plans to have access to the public stories for research and other history projects.

The guide itself stresses that the process is as important as the product: the process of writing your own life story can be tremendously affirming of your value and importance as a human being. As a product, the stories can be shared with family and may be helpful to researchers studying the reality of women's lives during the times you've lived.

In the Guide you'll find, in addition to the questionnaire itself and some history of the Cameo Life Stories project and The STORIES Center, much material to help with the process of writing: ideas for working with memories to prepare for writing, writing suggestions, ideas for creating and sustaining a Cameo Circle with others also writing their stories and ways to become more involved in women's history and related projects after writing your own story.  As a bonus or a help to the flow of your own ideas, Linzer has included more than 80 pages of excerpts from real women's stories.

Do you believe that your life matters, that the memories of your experience might be inspiring or instructive to future generations of your own family or to researchers?  Then consider taking on this project of both self-development and history.

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Text copyright 1999-2004 © Jone Johnson Lewis.

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