A New Book Is Born!

By Sarah White

Books are like babies, as far as my experience goes (which includes birthing a few books of my own and midwifing quite a few others, but no babies).

How so? The publishing process takes about 9 months in most cases, and people look with amazement and joy upon the result. Nothing in our culture comes close to holding the cultural cache of producing a human being–with the exception of a book. That’s why I’m excited to welcome Homeward: Personal Stories on the Search for Belonging to the Guided Autobiography family.

Weighing in at 10.7 ounces, 195 pages, and 49 co-authors, this is the second anthology in the Birren Collection. Its older sibling is Onward!: True Life Stories of Challenges, Choices & Change. Onward!, published in November 2022.

Onward! consisted of short essays written by Guided Autobiography instructors. With Homeward, the Birren Center opened the call for submissions to students of GAB instructors as well. I forwarded the announcement to everyone who has taken a Guided Autobiography workshop with me over the years. I’m pleased that two of my students, Josh Feyen and Cam French, had stories accepted for inclusion. We will celebrate their success at my First Person salons on December 5th/6th, and with a talk at Barnes & Noble West Towne on January 15th at 2pm.

These anthologies, compiled from essays written in response to prompts, demonstrate the power of personal stories to entertain, impart wisdom, and connect people across generations and cultures. Onward is a collection of personal stories about life-changing moments. (I am grateful to have had an essay included.) Homeward offers unique insights on the universal search for belonging.

The books are published independently by the Birren Center for Autobiographical Writing, through which the authors are certified to teach their classes. “Our instructors are really incredible people,” said Birren Center Director Cheryl Svensson. “They come from all over the world, all walks of life, and they have the most amazing stories—as do their students.”

Sales from the anthologies directly benefit the Birren Center to help them start and support Guided Autobiography (“GAB”) classes in communities around the world. “The purpose of GAB is to help people see that memoir writing isn’t reserved for the rich and the famous,” Svensson said. “It isn’t just for people who are good writers. The act of writing down the story of your life belongs to every person, because every person has a story and every story counts.”

What Is Guided Autobiography? I’ve articulated it previously on this blog; see my post “Guided Autobiography: The Magic of Small-Group Reminiscence Writing.” Why am I so passionate about sharing it? I see it change people’s lives. My student Barb McCarthy described that well in a post, Branching Points – A Fork in the Road.

This unique writing methodology, in which trained instructors use themed prompts, short writing assignments, and small supportive groups, unlocks insights that help us better understand our past experiences and make wiser decisions for the future. I know of nothing more useful than a compass when one is headed into the unknown. Your writing in a GAB workshop becomes that compass.

My next Guided Autobiography workshop starts January 25 in Madison: this is an in-person workshop.

  • When: This 10-week workshop meets Wednesday mornings, 9:30-11:30 a.m. Central, from 1/25/23 through 4/5/2023 (no class on 3/15–Spring Break!)
  • Where: Truax-Protective Services Room 220
  • Fee: $205
  • To register: Click here for a registration form; enter class #63414. Or call 608.258.2301, Option 2.

And hey. In the meantime, get a copy of Homeward, Onward, or both, and curl up with some true personal stories that will stimulate your own reminiscences and restore your faith in the human spirit.


About first person productions

My blog "True Stories Well Told" is a place for people who read and write about real life. I’ve been leading life writing groups since 2004. I teach, coach memoir writers 1:1, and help people publish and share their life stories.
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