Tag Archives: memoir

The Top Personal History Blogs of 2011.

This is my third annual listing of the best personal history blogs of the year.

I’ve been tougher in my selection this year. Blogs that were either “missing in action” or were visually unappealing or had weak content didn’t make the cut.

My criteria for selection is based on the qualities I wrote about in What Everybody Ought to Know About a Successful Blog. Briefly these are:

  • Frequent posts.
  • Consistency.
  • Personal.
  • Short and scannable articles.
  • Uncluttered.
  • Use of graphics, photographs, and video.
  • Catchy headlines.
  • Generous and useful content.

This year there are two newcomers to the list: Beth LaMie’s One Story at a Time and  Sarah White’s True Stories Well Told.

Special mention also goes to three blogs that show what good personal history blogging can be. If you’re not on this year’s list, check these out for inspiration.  The owners know their audience, write great content, post  frequently and consistently, and create a visually appealing format.  Kudos to The Heart and Craft of Life Writing, Women’s Memoirs, and True Stories Well Told.

Without further ado, here are the top eight personal history blogs for 2011, ranked in alphabetical order.  Congratulations to everyone.  Drum role, please!

  • Legacy Multimedia blog. Owner Stefani Twyford says that on her blog “you will read about my passion for personal history, filmmaking techniques, genealogy, and related topics. I will veer off onto other topics from time to time but always come back to the things that make my work and my life a joy.”
  • Memoir Mentor. Owner Dawn Thurston says, “My blog is an attempt to participate in the larger community of people interested in life story writing of all kinds and perhaps help a few people persevere in writing their stories.”
  • One Story at a Time.  Owner Beth LaMie says, “I hope you find my stories of interest, especially if you want to write some of your own family stories.”
  • True Stories Well Told.  Owner Sarah White says, “Here’s where I share the thoughts I might bring up for class discussion. Here’s where I post the writings of my fearless, peerless, workshop participants. Here’s where I share stories from my own life, as well as my pet peeves, pointers, and personal observations. I hope to create the atmosphere you find in my classrooms.”
  • Video Biography Central. Owner Jane Lehmann-Shafron describes her blog as a place for “Advice, essays, samples and inspiration for people interested in preserving their personal and family history through video biography, memorial video, life story and genealogy video.”
  • Women’s Memoirs. Owners Matilda Butler and Kendra Bonnet have put together a wealth of information that includes writing prompts, book reviews, and more. Women’s Memoirs is not strictly speaking a personal history site but there’s a lot of useful material  here for anyone involved in personal histories.

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Photo by Jackie

The Best of Monday’s Link Roundup.

Many of you know that every Monday for the past year I’ve pulled together 7 Internet articles that I’ve found noteworthy and presented them here. That’s over 300 items!

I’ve combed through the Monday’s Link archive and selected 7 posts that are particularly outstanding. If you haven’t had a chance to read these, make yourself a cup of coffee or tea, settle back, and enjoy some stimulating reading.

  • A Tribute to KODACHROME: A Photography Icon. “They say all good things in life come to an end …It was a difficult decision, given its rich history …We at Kodak want to celebrate with you the rich history of this storied film. Feel free to share with us your fondest memories of Kodachrome.”
  • The Future of the Book. “Meet Nelson, Coupland, and Alice — the faces of tomorrow’s book. Watch global design and innovation consultancy IDEO’s vision for the future of the book. What new experiences might be created by linking diverse discussions, what additional value could be created by connected readers to one another, and what innovative ways we might use to tell our favorite stories and build community around books?”
  • Ira Glass on the Art of Storytelling. “Since 1995, Ira Glass has hosted and produced This American Life (iTunes – Feed – Web Site), the award-winning radio show that presents masterfully-crafted stories to almost 2 million listeners each week. What’s the secret sauce that goes into making a great story, particularly one primed for radio or TV? Glass spells it out in four parts.”
  • “Welcome to Pine Point”: digital narrative chases memory and loss.“What if your hometown disappeared, literally vanished from the map? How would you hold onto it? Would the community of people who had lived there continue? “Welcome to Pine Point” is a website that explores the death of a town and the people whose memories and mementos tell its story today. The site lives online under the auspices of the National Film Board of Canada and came into the world via the creative duo of Michael Simons and Paul Shoebridge (also known as The Goggles).”
  • Memory and Invention: An Essay by Mavis Gallant. “Imagination, all invention, will occur spontaneously – occur or interfere. ‘Interference’ means it is false, mistaken, untrue. Although I have kept a journal for years, I never look anything up. A diary is not a dictionary or the record of a meeting. Sometimes a sharp, insistent image caught in one’s mind, perhaps of a stranger glimpsed only once, will become the living source of a whole story.”
  • Dear Photograph: A website with a window into the past. “In the past month, a summery, slightly sad website has made the trip from non-existence to international exposure. It’s called Dear Photograph, and its premise is simple: Take a picture of an old photo being carefully held up in front of the place it was originally taken, so it appears to be a window into the past.”
  • Affirmation, Etched in Vinyl. “For years I tried to construct a viable idea of my long-gone father by piecing together scraps of other people’s memories. I was only 6 when he died,…My father’s death stole many things from me, including the sound of his voice. For instance, I have tried to remember his laughter from that final night — its timbre and roll — but my mind is an erased tape. I possess the knowledge of his laughter and of Angie and Johnny’s bubbly white noise but have no memory of the sounds themselves. It’s as if I have garnered these details by reading a biography penned by a stranger.” [Thanks to Pat McNees of Writers and Editors for alerting me to this item.]

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My Top 10 Posts of 2011.

It’s the end of the year and time for list making.  These are the posts from 2011 that were the most popular with readers.  If you’ve missed some of them, now’s  your chance to catch up over the holidays. Enjoy!

  1. The 50 Best Life Story Questions.
  2. 25 No Cost or Low Cost Marketing Ideas for Your Personal History Business.
  3. How Much Should You Pay a Personal Historian?
  4. 15 Great Memoirs Written by Women.
  5. 5 Top Sites for Free Online Videography Training.
  6. The Top 3 Prosumer HD Camcorders Under $2,500.
  7. How to Boost Your Interviewing Skills.
  8. Three Crucial Steps to Starting Your Personal History Business.
  9. 5 Print-On-Demand Sites You’ll Want to Consider.
  10. 12 Top Rated Family Tree Makers.

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The Best Biography & Memoir Books of 2011.

Are you still looking for the perfect gift for that special personal historian on your list? Look no further. I’ve selected a dozen critically acclaimed  biographies and memoirs as possibilities. It’s a varied list that’s sure to offer up just the right book for that certain someone.

I’ve put these books on my Santa Claus wish list. Maybe he’ll be good to me. I still believe in Santa you know! ;-)

Pauline Kael: A Life in the Dark

“Such was the power of Kael’s voluminous writing about movies that she transformed the sensibility and standards of mainstream pop culture criticism in America — mostly for the better, despite her bullying personality (in print and in life), her sloppy professional ethics and her at times careerist escapades in self-dramatizing contrarianism…If you want to understand what it was like to be in the audience during America’s thrilling, now vanished age of movies, you must begin with Kael.” (Frank Rich, The New York Times)

The Measure of a Man: The Story of a Father, a Son, and a Suit

“In The Measure of a Man, Vancouver fashion writer, broadcaster and erstwhile tailor’s apprentice JJ Lee chronicles the evolution of the men’s suit, with fascinating tidbits on some of its innovators, such as Beau Brummell, Oscar Wilde and King Edward VIII…Lee, who recently made the non-fiction short list for a Governor-General’s award, also tells a very personal and yet universal story about a son’s quest to understand his father’s life, and their relationship.” (Carla Lucchetta, The Globe & Mail)

Then Again

“Diane Keaton’s book about her life is not a straight-up, chronological memoir. It’s a collage that mixes Ms. Keaton’s words with those of her mother, Dorothy Deanne Keaton Hall, who died in 2008. Since Ms. Hall left behind 85 scrapbooklike journals, a huge and chaotic legacy, there is every reason to expect that Ms. Keaton’s braiding of her own story with her mother’s in “Then Again” will be a rambling effort at best. Instead it is a far-reaching, heartbreaking, absolutely lucid book about mothers, daughters, childhood, aging, mortality, joyfulness, love, work and the search for self-knowledge. Show business too.” (Janet Maslin, The New York Times)

My Korean Deli: Risking it All for a Convenience Store

“It’s hard not to fall in love with My Korean Deli. First, it’s the (very) rare memoir that places careful, loving attention squarely on other people rather than the author. Second, it tells a rollicking, made-for-the-movies story in a wonderfully funny deadpan style. By the end, you’ll feel like you know the author and his family quite well—even though you may not be eager to move in with them. . . .”
(Corby Kummer, The New York Times)

Steve Jobs

“Mr. Isaacson treats “Steve Jobs” as the biography of record, which means that it is a strange book to read so soon after its subject’s death. Some of it is an essential Silicon Valley chronicle, compiling stories well known to tech aficionados but interesting to a broad audience. Some of it is already quaint. Mr. Jobs’s first job was at Atari, and it involved the game Pong. (“If you’re under 30, ask your parents,” Mr. Isaacson writes.) Some, like an account of the release of the iPad 2, is so recent that it is hard to appreciate yet, even if Mr. Isaacson says the device comes to life “like the face of a tickled baby.” (Janet Maslin, The New York Times)

Twin: A Memoir

“…an unsparing but deeply compassionate inquiry into his family’s life. It’s a book that combines the sympathetic insight of Oliver Sacks’s writings with Joan Didion’s autobiographical candor and Mary Karr’s sense of familial dynamics — a book that leaves the reader with a haunting sense of how relationships between brothers and sisters, and parents and children, can irrevocably bend the arc of an individual’s life, how childhood dynamics can shape one’s apprehension of the world.” (Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times)

And So It Goes: Kurt Vonnegut: A Life

Readers need not be familiar with Vonnegut’s oeuvre to enjoy this fascinating biography of an immensely talented and darkly complicated man. If the goal of a biography is to leave readers feeling as though they know the subject better than the subject knew themselves, then And So It Goes succeeds very well indeed because Charles R. Shields is, as he described himself in the letter that won over Vonnegut, “a damn fine researcher and writer.” (Karen Dionne, New York Journal of Books).

Mordecai: The Life & Times

Charles Foran’s comprehensive, richly written life is the first to have the support of Richler’s family, especially his widow, Florence…Foran’s combination of daunting research with novelistic writing has “reconstructed” rather than “interpreted” Richler’s life, though occasional moments underscore Richler’s rare displays of deeply felt emotions and his resistance to curbing his two obsessions: smoking and drinking.”  (Ira Nadel, The Globe and Mail)

This Life Is in Your Hands: One Dream, Sixty Acres, and a Family Undone

“Intense readability…. haunting power…. as well as lush, vivid atmosphere that is alluring in its own right…. [A] story so nuanced that it would be a disservice to reveal what was in store. If you want to know what happened, read it for yourself.” (Janet Maslin, New York Times )

One Day I Will Write About This Place: A Memoir

“Harried reader, I’ll save you precious time: skip this review and head directly to the bookstore for Binyavanga Wainaina’s stand-up-and-cheer coming-of-age memoir…This is a book for anyone who still finds the nourishment of a well-­written tale preferable to the empty-­calorie jolt of a celebrity confessional or Swedish mystery.” (Alexandra Fuller, The New York Times)

Bird Cloud

“Bird Cloud” is part personal memoir, part construction adventure, part diary about noble animals, but all of it comes together like the ingredients of a glorious meal. The reader is lucky to be invited to her table.” (Tim Gautreaux, San Francisco Chronicle)

Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness

“We work memory over, perhaps hoping, subconsciously, that things will turn out differently — or more realistically, that we will discover a key that unlocks a memory’s mysterious urgency. That drive to make sense, to find a deeper meaning in the shallows of daily life, to turn splintered chaos into a coherent story, makes a memoir worth reading. And “Cocktail Hour” hits the mark.” (Dominique Browning, The New York Times)

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Image by iStockphoto

Monday’s Link Roundup.

If you’re searching for a way of creating a free professional promotional video for your business, look no further. Check out My Business Story in today’s Monday’s Link Roundup. And reenacted photos in Back to the Future will forever change how you look at childhood pictures of yourself.

  • Moby Offers Up Free Music to Filmmakers. “If you’re an indie filmmaker, non-profit filmmaker or film student, you can head to MobyGratis.com, register for the site, and then start browsing through a fairly extensive catalogue of recordings — 120+ recordings in total.”
  • The Late Word. “When we speak of literature, we should not imagine that we are speaking of some stable and enduring Platonic entity. The history of literature has always been about its highly mutable institutions, whether bookstores, publishers, schools of criticism, or, for the last half century, the mass media.”
  • StoryCorps Gives Voice to Critically Ill. “[StoryCorps]has created the StoryCorps Legacy initiative. Partnering with hospitals, hospices and cancer centers, it helps people with life threatening medical conditions record their stories.”
  • My Business Story. “Google and American Express know every small business has a BIG story. So we’ve created MY Business Story to help you make a professional-quality video. It’s free and easy. Just tell your story and we’ll take care of the rest.”
  • A Plethora of Writing Prompts for Creative Writing and Journaling. “Having a list of prompts that you can pull from every day in order to help you practice your craft, even if it’s just for ten minutes a day, can be very helpful. In addition, sometimes creative writing prompts can help spark an idea when you’re stuck on a short story or some other fiction piece that you’re writing.”
  • Back to the Future. “I love old photos. I admit being a nosey photographer. As soon as I step into someone else’s house, I start sniffing for them. Most of us are fascinated by their retro look but to me, it’s imagining how people would feel and look like if they were to reenact them today… A few months ago, I decided to actually do this. So, with my camera, I started inviting people to go back to their future.”
  • miniBiography and the 99%. “David Lynch’s Interview Project,[is] an online series of short video documentaries centering on the lives of “normal” people across America. In Interview Project’s 121 mini-biographies, the filmmakers (including Lynch’s son Austin) ask complete strangers piercing, existential questions. It is a source of ever-renewed wonder that each stranger has an answer, and that the answers are so often so rich and brimming with hard-luck stories and lived experience.”

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Encore! What’s the Difference Between Memoirs, Autobiographies, and Life Stories?

My mom far left with her sister, mother, and brother

I must admit that I haven’t given much thought to the finer distinctions between life stories, memoirs, autobiographies, and personal essays until I came across Sharon Lippincott’s fine blog The Heart and Craft of Life Writing .  In a January post she loosely defines an array of life writing approaches: … Read more.

Monday’s Link Roundup.

I’m a sucker for clever animation. In this Monday’s Link Roundup you won’t want to miss a real charmer, Spike Jonze’s Stop-Motion Bookstore Love Story. And if you’re concerned about digital preservation, take a look at this Library of Congress article Digital Preservation-Friendly File Formats for Scanned Images.

  • PBS Off Book: Type. “In episode 2 of Off Book, typeface designers Jonathan Hoefler and Tobias Frere-Jones outline the importance of selecting the right font to convey a particular feeling. Graphic designer Paula Scher talks about building identity in messaging, while Eddie Opara uses texture to create reaction. Infographic designers Julia Vakser and Deroy Peraza map complicated data sets into digestible imagery, mixing color, graphics and type.”
  • The 20 Most Iconic Book Covers Ever. “We recently read an article over at We Made This in which Nick Hornby writes that ”the days of the iconic jacket illustration, the image that forever becomes associated with a much-loved novel, are nearly gone. The stakes are too high now.” If this is true, it’s just another way that advertising is ruining our lives, since one of the things we love best about the book as art object and experience is the way well-designed covers complement and enhance your reading, and the way they figure in your mind when you remember a book.”
  • The Memoir and Children’s Privacy. “An article published in The Times on Monday [August 30, 2009] discussed the controversy over “The Lost Child,” a memoir by a British writer, Julie Myerson, who chronicled her son’s drug addiction. After Ms. Myerson’s son, now 20, condemned the book, which was published in the United States this week, debate flared in Britain over whether it was proper for the author to expose her son’s troubles and over what the boundaries should be in memoir writing. Is it inappropriate and even harmful to expose the private lives of minor children, in particular? What privacy lines should be observed, if any, in writing about family members and others?”
  • Spike Jonze’s Stop-Motion Bookstore Love Story. “…[this] lovely short film … was created by Spike Jonze—director of Being John Malkovich, Where the Wild Things Are, and so on—and the handbag designer Olympia Le-Tan. Among Le-Tan’s creations are limited-edition, felt book-clutches based on the famous covers of literary classics. Le-Tan met Jonze in Paris, and he asked for a Catcher in the Rye embroidery to put on his wall, … Le-Tan asked for a film in return.”
  • Old San Francisco Pictures Online. “If you or your ancestors ever lived in San Francisco, don’t visit this site! It is addictive. You’ll spend hours looking at the pictures! Dan Vanderkam moved to San Francisco in 2007 to work at Google. He became fascinated with his new city’s history and soon found the San Francisco Public Library’s online repository of old pictures. However, he quickly became frustrated by the site’s awkward user interface. He thought, “there must be a better way.”
  • Digital Preservation-Friendly File Formats for Scanned Images. “From a preservation standpoint, some digital file formats are better than others.  The basic issue is how readable a format remains over the course of time and successive waves of technological change.  The ideal format will convey its content accurately regardless of advances in hardware, software and other aspects of information technology.”

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Monday’s Link Roundup.

This Monday’s Link roundup has the perfect solution to kick-start your week – Celebrity Autobigraphy. It’s  drop dead funny and a stark reminder that trivia in the guise of memoir is just bad writing. On a more serious note, I highly recommend the interview with Dudley Clendinen in ..building stories from life and choosing grace in death.”

  • Where Stories Are Remembered. “Mr. Kamara has taught for two decades at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. But as with his forebears, the identity that means the most to him is that of a storyteller. “Not the kind of storyteller you listen to when you’re sitting around a fire, and maybe it’s raining, and you’re scared to go home,” he said. His stories have to do with genealogy, cosmology and similarly great subjects, and are told while others dance and perform music, making them true multimedia performances.” [Thanks to APH member Marcy Davis for alerting me to this item.]
  • Sixth National Women’s Memoir Conference. [April 13-15, 2012 Wyndham Hotel, Austin, Texas] “Stories from the Heart VI will bring women from around the country to celebrate our stories and our lives. Through writing, reading, listening, and sharing, we will discover how personal narrative is a healing art, how we can gather our memories, how we can tell our stories. “
  • Dudley Clendinen on building stories from life and choosing grace in death. “Our latest Editors’ Roundtable examines Dudley Clendinen’s “The Good Short Life,” a career journalist’s startling response to being diagnosed with ALS…Clendinen has written for GQ, the St. Petersburg Times, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and The New York Times, among many other publications. Clendinen was kind enough to take the time – a commodity that has become precious to him – to talk with us about his essay. In these excerpts from our conversation, he addresses using his life as material, coming out on the op-ed page of the New York Times, and the upside of getting “paid to die.”
  • Everybody Has a Story. “The story starts with a dart and a map. Over a shoulder, the dart is thrown, and where it stops no one knows. Once the dart lands on a town, Steve Hartman goes there and calls someone up on the phone and interviews them. Admittedly, it’s a unique way of getting a story, but his “Everybody Has a Story” segments on CBS’s The Early Show are being emulated on local newscasts and in newspapers across the country. Actually, Hartman got the idea for the segment from newspaper reporter David Johnson of Idaho’s Lewiston Morning Tribune.”
  • The Rise of “Awesome”. “In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was awesome.  If this sounds like an irreverent approach to the famous first lines of the gospel of John, I can assure you it’s not. “The word was God,” according to the original. But repeatedly in the Bible, God is “awesome”… How did this once-awe-inspiring word become a nearly meaningless bit of verbiage referring to anything even mildly good?”
  • Celebrity Autobiography. “How does Vanna flip her panels?  What does Stallone have in his freezer?  Why did Burt and Loni topple from the upper tier of their wedding cake?  What makes the Jonas Brothers get along?  Find all this out and more in the new hit comedy “Celebrity Autobiography” where super star memoirs are acted out live on stage.  Audiences walk away from the show asking, “ Did they actually write that?”  Yes, we couldn’t make this stuff up!”
  • How to Manage the Risks of Having Your Own Business. “Starting a business is risky. Horribly, terrifyingly risky. Nearly all new businesses fail — that’s the official statistic, right? Some say 4 out of 5, some say as many as 95%. Successful entrepreneurs have a different kind of DNA from the rest of us. Ice water runs through their veins. They thrive on risk. The more insane the odds, the better they like it. For those of us who have families, or who just don’t feel like living on ramen for the next four years, we’re probably better off keeping the day job. Do you believe any of those? Because I call B.S. on all of them.”

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Monday’s Link Roundup.

To start off your week, why not peruse some of these lively articles in Monday’s Links Roundup? I recommend The Power of Color! for tips on how to use color to sell your products or services.  And for a really creative memoir idea, take a look at The Sidewalk Memoir Project.

  • From Scroll to Screen. “Something very important and very weird is happening to the book right now: It’s shedding its papery corpus and transmigrating into a bodiless digital form, right before our eyes. We’re witnessing the bibliographical equivalent of the rapture. If anything we may be lowballing the weirdness of it all. The last time a change of this magnitude occurred was circa 1450, when Johannes Gutenberg invented movable type.”
  • Five Ways to Improve Your Social Media Skills. “The sites you subscribe to and the thoughts you post define you: as a connection, a customer and even a thought leader. If you have a product or service and you are not using social media to reach out to the masses you are missing a huge opportunity.”
  • The Sidewalk Memoir Project. “I’m teaching an 8 a.m. session of Writing Rhetorically this semester, which is Bridgewater State’s equivalent on Writing I. You need to be a little innovative when you’re trying to hold a class’s attention that early in the morning, so here’s what we ended up doing Thursday. The exercise — which doubled as a lesson in brevity as well as audience — ended up going much better than I thought it was.”
  • National Punctuation Day. “This Saturday, September 24, is National Punctuation Day. Founded by Jeff Rubin, the holiday seems readymade for copyeditors. Rubin’s site offers a few ways to celebrate his holiday, but for word professionals, the best way is to correct punctuation in your editing every day—not just on Punctuation Day—and instruct your writers on better punctuation usage. Gently, of course. Here are a few resources for punctuation lessons:”

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Monday’s Link Roundup.

This Monday’s Link Roundup has two terrific lists, 100 Resources for Writers and 50 Best Memoir Blogs. And if you want to read about the value of life stories for terminally ill patients, be sure to check out For The Dying, A Chance To Rewrite Life. 

  • Objects and Memory. “The documentary film Objects and Memory depicts experiences in the aftermath of 9/11 and other major historic events to reveal how, in times of stress, we join together in community and see otherwise ordinary things as symbols of identity, memory and aspiration. In its exploration of people preserving the past and speaking to the future, Objects and Memory invites us to think about the fundamental nature of human interaction.”  [Thanks to cj madigan of Shoebox Stories for alerting me to this item.]
  • Blast From the Past. “Wondering what hot topics your grandparents discussed with the neighbors, or what tunes your mom whistled as a teen? Want to flesh out your family’s story with facts about everyday life? Enjoy reminiscing about days gone by? Our book Remember That? A Year-by-Year Chronicle of Fun Facts, Headlines and Your Memories, by Allison Dolan and the editors of Family Tree Magazine, is an accounting of the whos, whats, whens and wheres of the 20th century.”
  • 100 Resources for Writers. “I don’t necessarily use or outright endorse all of these resources myself. Thing is, in compiling this list I started thinking, “Who am I to judge what is helpful for other writers?” My goal is to provide you with a starting point for online exploration, not tell you what to do. So if you hate some of this stuff? Fine, not my fault! If you love it? I take full credit!”
  • For The Dying, A Chance To Rewrite Life. “For several decades, psychiatrists who work with the dying have been trying to come up with new psychotherapies that can help people cope with the reality of their death. One of these therapies asks the dying to tell the story of their life.”
  • The Women’s Museum. “A Smithsonian affiliate, The Women’s Museum™: An Institute for the Future makes visible the unique, textured, and diverse stories of American women. Using the latest technology and interactive media, the Museum’s exhibits and programs expand our understanding of women’s participation in shaping our nation’s history and create a lively environment for dialogue and discovery. Thousands of stories recount public and private triumphs and the struggles of those who would be denied their freedoms in all its forms: political, social, and spiritual.”
  • 50 Best Memoir Blogs. “Our list of the 50 best personal memoir blogs is full of poignant childhood tales, scandalous anecdotes, and valuable resources for any aspiring writer. They may even inspire you to write your own!” [Thanks to APH member Catherine McCrum for alerting me to this item.]

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