Salisbury Class—May 2006
Litchfield County Times
Salisbury Class Helps Turn
Stories of Life Into Memoirs
by Laurel Tuohy
Thursday, May 04, 2006
SALISBURY—Betty Krasne believes that everyone has a story to tell. It is with this in mind that the longtime Mercy College English professor and Kent resident has taken to teaching memoir writing classes in area libraries. She is currently teaching the eight-week course at Salisbury’s Scoville Memorial Library to about a dozen would-be memoirists.
She had the idea to offer this open class after writing her own memoir over the course of many years. “I had been working on a memoir about family and education, and the family’s view of it over many generations, and it’s finally coming out now,” she said of the narrative entitled A Dangerous Thing: A Memoir of Learning and Teaching. “I thought other people could go through this process as well if they had some place to start,” she said of her memoir...available via Amazon.com.
“It turns out to be a much different process than what they envisioned,” she said of people telling their stories. “People learn things they didn’t know or hadn’t thought about or hadn’t understood fully....In many cases, it may raise more questions than it resolves, but people do it for all different reasons. Some do it because they want to pass on a history to family, while some want to resolve conflicts,” she said.
One of the most surprising things about the class is what different forms the same assignment can take in the students’ hands. They have vastly different styles, and a wide array of stories to tell. Some people are telling their stories in a factual way, with information that spans a century and several continents researched via the Internet and microfilm, while others are telling the story as a narrative culled from family diaries and interviews, and yet others are dealing with recent family tragedies where wounds are fresh, emotions high and research needs to be done quietly and carefully so as not to upset anyone.
...“The fee is an attempt to get people to take it seriously and attend regularly”...she teaches it to share her love of narrative storytelling. In her groups, most of the students are not professionally involved with writing. She did note that some of the professional
writers she has had in her memoir groups clearly shone, while others with professional status found the class more difficult because they were very set in doing things a certain way. “It was a challenge for them. I think it can go either way,” she said.... [She] explained that students often fail at good critiquing because of social niceties. “It helps no one when one student tells another student their work is ‘nice,’” she said. “This group is great because they hone in on the weak areas and what they want to know more about. I try to make sure it is constructive.”
These stories that are shared, whether shocking, sweet, funny or amazing, create a protective atmosphere among the group and it’s easy to imagine the participants are bonding. “That’s why it’s important for the students to come every week because they build up a sort of esprit de corps that enables them to say all kinds of, perhaps, revealing things in front of each other,” Ms. Krasne said.
One thing that keeps them coming back is Ms. Krasne. They rave about the professor and the license she has given them to express themselves and delve into their past, something many of them have wanted to do for years.
“I think one of the best things about the course is because of its structure people have come in with deeply personal and moving things. We haven’t had a single class where people weren’t moved very deeply. It’s amazing that we have been touching on our deepest emotions in the things we are writing memoirs about,” said one class member. “The great thing about this class is there are all different kinds of people that are here....”
Ms. Krasne’s easy to follow lessons are peppered with the kind of smart quotes you’d find yourself repeating after the class ends such as, “There is a difference between telling the truth and spilling the beans.” She also offers challenging thoughts to the students, reminding them that a memoir is always told from a point of view and that, in the process of writing, stories are shaped and trimmed in the interest of good reading, skewing the story even further.
Email Betty at