Monday, March 2, 2009

Yesterday Stories

I love hearing people's stories -- the strange, exciting, dramatic, crazy adventures they've had. It's such fun when, in conversation, you happen upon a topic that reminds someone of a moment that happened months, years or even decades ago. I find a special joy in these moments when they occur with people much older than I am, who lived through the moments I read about in history books.

In the few weeks since my book came out, I've found myself talking to many about the 1960s. (My novel is set in 1968 Chicago.) When I describe the book to people who can remember that time, they light up. They always want to tell me where they were and what they were doing. I talked to people of different races who participated in civil rights demonstrations, and one woman who desperately wanted to, but was too afraid to step forward. I talked to a white woman who had attended Black Panther Party political education classes, and another who traveled to register black voters in Mississippi. Amazing stories!

Some of these revelations came from people I've known for years. Yet, I had no idea about this corner of their pasts. Now, new doors have opened between us as a result of these conversations. I've discovered stories lying under the surface that were there all along, right under my nose. I would've loved to hear these anecdotes while I was writing the book, hungry for material, emotion and experiences to weave into my characters.

So, I find myself wondering why these things never come up. I don't quite know the answer, but I think it's mostly because I never asked them. And many people aren't comfortable sharing certain things when they're not asked. Especially when it comes to topics related to race, I think. Or maybe it's the 1960s itself that's become taboo. All the progress we've made in civil rights and race relations seems to have made people feel like it is something that no longer needs to be talked about. Not so, friends.

My resolution? I'm going to make it a point to ask people for their stories. Starting with all of you:

What were you doing in 1968? 1978? 1988? 1998?

1 comment:

sally said...

I really enjoy hearing people's stories too. It doesn't make a difference to me when they're from or their experiences, but there is something that lights up inside of them when they get started.

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