Writing Austin's Lives:
A Community Portrait

by the People of Austin

The UT Humanities Institute and Waterloo Press, 2004. ISBN 0975406701.
Reviewed by Christine Gilbert
Posted on 03/06/2005

Anthologies/Collections; Nonfiction: Nature/Place/Environment

A Note from SCN Past President Judith Helburn...
Twenty-eight Central Texas members of Story Circle Network helped birth Writing Austin's Lives. Susan Wittig Albert, SCN Past President, Pat Flathouse, OWL Director, Jane Ross, SCN Journal editor, and I served on the advisory board for contributors. Other SCN women participated in judging the 800 contributed stories. This book is a fine example of Story Circle Network "raising public awareness of the importance of women's personal histories" as stated in our mission statement. To learn more or to order a copy, visit: www.storycircle.org/frmwal.shtml.

Writing Austin's Lives: A Community Portrait is a 412-page anthology of stories written by 127 Austinites of all ages from various races and backgrounds. Here's a book to keep on your bedside table—a collection of bedtime stories that don't have to be read one after the other. Some are short, others longer, some well-written gems, some average. You can pick and choose from the ten themed chapters.

A community partnership project, this book is the result of one of the UT Humanities Institute's public humanities programs. It was sponsored by the Humanities Institute in cooperation with the Office of Mayor Gus Garcia, Austin Public Library, Austin Independent School District, and Story Circle Network. WRITING AUSTIN'S LIVES garnered the Austin Chronicle's Best of Austin 2004 Critic's Award for Best Local Authors and was featured at the 2004 Texas Book Festival.

Eight hundred Central Texans submitted their work in response to the call for stories sent out by the project coordinators through flyers distributed throughout the city. The Humanities Institute organized volunteers to help read the submissions, which had a word limit, and to offer free life-writing workshops at local branch libraries, bookstores, senior centers, and other places in the summer of 2003. Thus, these stories come from a broad spectrum of the population, including elementary school children, kids in junior high or high school, and senior citizens. All are about life in Austin now or in the past. Some describe the city's neighborhoods or important historical spots. Others are snapshots from daily life.

Memories, nostalgia, hopes and dreams fill the stories, which were written in response to one of six topics: "Where I Live," "What I Really Need," "The Best Day of My Life," "My Family's History in Austin," "What I See When I Look at Austin," and "My Family's Most Treasured Possession." Some are in Spanish with a translation. Photographs of Austin and Austinites illustrate the book, most of them from the Austin History Center.

I learned a lot about other Austinites from this book, how they live, what they think, and their experiences of the city—so different from mine because of the part of town they live in. I was particularly moved by stories in the chapter "Shall We Overcome?" with its tales of living in the Projects, fighting drugs, the need for love and acceptance, the need to change, and racism combined with stories about the power of belief and work to achieve your dreams, the hope many people have and the love they have for the city.

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