Writing Listening to our Grandmothers

As I explain in the Introduction to the book (which you can now download along with the beautiful foreward by Amy Palko as a preview), the idea for this project started a few years back. I was reading a life story which Pat, one of the women whose story is the book, had written about a man she had known for many years in Tanzania. My enthusiasm for life stories in general began many years ago when, as a graduate researcher & one of Pat’s students I collected the life stories of mentally ill people in Tanzania as part of a project I was working on.

In the case of Listening to our Grandmothers I decided to come up with a standard list of questions which I would ask each of the women woman – and then when I was listening to them, I would add some additional questions about things that particularly interested me about them. I thought I would share the original questions here for anyone who would like to use them to have a conversation with their Grandmother, Mum (my Mum is in the book!) or another older women in their life.

Listening to our Grandmothers original Questions:

  • Tell me about your early years, where were you born, who were your parents, how did you grow up?
  • Can you tell me something about your mother? What for she do for money? For fun? For love? What did you learn from her?
  • Can you tell me something about your father? What did he do for money? For fun? For love? What did you learn from him?
  • What are your most abiding childhood memories? What did you want to be when you grew up?
  • Did you have siblings? Who w/are they? How have they affected your life?
  • When did you leave home, how and why?
  • What were your passions? As a young woman?
  • How was the world different then? From the way it is now? How did you prefer it? What has improved?
  • Tell me about the choices you made about life partner (s) and children?
  • Tell me about the work which has been central to your life? How did you make choices about it? Is there a ‘central- narrative’ that you feel brings it together?
  • What, so far are your greatest accomplishments?
  • Which things, if any, do you regret?

When I was writing the book I would send these questions in advance.  Four of the life stories in the book were recorded in one long sitting.  I went to visit the woman in her home and we talked, prompted by, but not restricted to the questions above.  I spoke with the fifth woman, Tricia, by Skype and this happened over two separate meetings with a week or two in between them.

On each occassion I recorded our conversations so that afterwards I could go back and listen to them and and start writing the chapters of the book based upon what they had said.  In most cases the final chapter which now appears in the book is a result of many iteractions and edits, a process which took many months as many other life events and commitments turned up along the way.

I hope that the result of this is a book that is not just a testimaent to the lives and experiences of five incredible women but also an inspiration to you to the listen to the older women in your life too.


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