–by Susan Wittig Albert
What's new? What's old? It's hard to believe, but the conference Story Circle is planning right now is our fifth national conference. We held the first one in 2002, another in 2004, then 2006, 2008, and coming up, February 5-7, 2010.
Those of us who were involved in planning that first conference eight years ago felt we were very brave–and very ambitious. After all, Story Circle was only four years old (it was founded in 1997). It was a small, local organization, and memoir had not yet taken its place as the significant and popular literary form that it would become over the next few years. And women's memoir? Who had heard of such a thing? The lifestories worth telling were men's stories, weren't they? With the exception, of course, of a few exceptional women, already famous for other reasons, whose stories were "worth" publishing. The idea that ordinary women might have extraordinary stories to tell . . . well, that idea was just a little radical.
But the 27 women who made up that first planning group put their collective shoulders to the wheel (metaphorically speaking). They thought hard, pushed harder, and pulled off an exciting, moving, heart-warming conference. Judith Helburn came up with the name, "Stories From the Heart," in part because the conference was held near Valentine's Day, but also because that's what Story Circle has always been all about: discovering the stories that are close to women's hearts. We worried that it would not be well attended (this was just five months after 9/11/01), but it was: 128 wonderful women came to the Town Lake Holiday Inn, in Austin TX, and we shared an extraordinary experience.
Now, here it is 2009, and we're planning yet another conference. In the intervening eight years, SCN has become an international women's writing organization, women's memoir has mushroomed into a publishing phenomenon, and "life story" has been recognized as an important literary form–creative nonfiction, it's sometimes called, which sometimes makes me chuckle: it sounds so academic–downright stuffy, don't you think? (Here at Story Circle, we just call it "telling our stories.")
But the aim of our biennial conference hasn't changed one bit. We are here to remind ourselves and others that women's stories–stories of family life, loves gained and lost, career challenges, educational aims, dreams of owning our own businesses, along with recipes and quilt patterns and family legends–these are important stories. They deserve to be written.
This week at SCN, the program for the 2010 conference settled into shape. You can get a preliminary look at it on the conference website. We're working on other aspects of the conference, too: publicity, the silent auction, the vendor area. But you know what? The women who are contributing their time and energy are doing it with the same vigor, dedication, and creativity that we saw in that first team of planners, eight years ago. Gotta love it when women roll up their sleeves and decide to do something!
And two other upcoming events to tell you about: two SCN-sponsored Be Our Guest programs featuring author Janet Conner, one in Austin TX (September 28), the other in San Antonio TX (October 1). Join us!