What are the stories that have made us who we are? Will our children know them?
Questions like these led me to Personal History.
Trained as an anthropologist, with more than thirty years experience as a journalist, editor, and author, I have been listening to people’s stories and turning them into narratives for most of my life. I’ve written cover stories for Smithsonian and Natural History magazines, been a correspondent for the Boston Globe, among other newspapers, and written for many periodicals including Christian Science Monitor, Horizon, Maine Boats Homes and Harbors (here’s my most recent for MBHH) Ladies Home Journal, American Photographer, Art New England, Fiberarts, Letter Arts Review, Metalsmith, Parabola, Resurgence, and many more outlets. In 2004 I founded COA, the award-winning magazine of College of the Atlantic, which I edited until I retired from the college at the end of 2017.
As an oral historian, I have interviewed craft artists for the Smithsonian Institution’s Nanette Laitman Archives of American Art, the Maine Community Foundation, and numerous families and communities.
My journey to Personal History began as a child, when I begged for stories from my immigrant grandparents, longing to know my place in history. But I was young, too young to break through their reluctance to speak of hard times.
Then I made a pilgrimage across the nation, to meet the youngest sister of my grandfather. She relished her stories! I taped my great aunt’s memories of life in Bessarabia – her wonder at seeing a home with a real floor, her time in a Russian commune, her descriptions of pogroms – gave me a heritage of courage, humor, and spunk.
Recorded and transcribed, I realized her words were some of the most precious I’d ever typed. To honor them, I bound them by hand with ancestral fabric as gifts for my family.
And so Personal History was launched!
Whether I’m helping others create a 200-page published memoir, a handbound collection of stories, or a two-page legacy letter, whether I’m working with a class of memoirists, or an individual, editing a manuscript, I find this work beautifully fulfilling. I love that I can combine my skills as an editor, journalist and oral historian with my master’s degree in anthropology, to connect to families, communities, senior residences, businesses, and many others as I encourage and ensure the preservation of stories.
“But our memory of ourselves, hard earned,
is one of the land’s seeds, as a seed
is the memory of the life of its kind in its place,
to pass on into life the knowledge
of what has died. What we owe the future
is not a new start, for we can only begin
with what has happened. We owe the future
the past, the long knowledge
that is the potency of time to come.”
donna [at] personalhistory [dot] org