I assured the standing-room-only crowd at our Getting Your Memoir Off the Ground session at Printers Row Lit Fest Sunday morning that their wait for 95-year-old panelist Wanda Bridgeforth would be worth it. “Funny thing was, Wanda Jr. was waiting for me upstairs,” Wanda told me later. “And I was waiting for her downstairs!”
My sister Bev and an entourage of other friends were on the lookout for Wanda, too, and just as the crowd in room 4008 of Jones High School started shuffling their papers and fidgeting in their seats, Bev came in with good news. “Wanda has entered the building.”
The temperature outside was in the 90s, and Wanda entered without a sweat. The crowd cheered. After greeting her new admirers with a hearty, “I’m here!” Wanda settled into a seat at the front table next to Seeing Eye dog Whitney and me, and we were off.
Wanda was on our panel with Anna Nessy Perlberg, a fellow writer who also shares stories of life’s challenges and joys in the memoir-writing classes I lead in Chicago every week. Anna and Wanda are both featured in my new book Writing Out Loud and both of them read essays during our panel.
With her daughter’s help, Wanda Bridgeforth self-published her memoir, On The Move. Writing Out Loud and Anna Nessy Perlberg’s The House in Prague were both published by Golden Alley Press.
I shared tips on getting a memoir started, and Golden Alley Press publisher/editor Nancy Sayre spoke on the pros and cons of self-publishing, of working with a major publishing house, and of working with an independent publisher.
Our panel flew by, and friends there told me later that audience members were jotting notes down throughout. The last question during our Q&A was whether writing a memoir taught us something about ourselves that surprised us. I answered with some blah, blah, blah the way I do, and when I turned it over to Wanda, she started with, “Well, the thing I learned was…” She just couldn’t find her words, so we all held our breath in anticipation. And just like at the start of our presentation, the wait for Wanda was worth it. “I learned I could do it!” Anna responded with an exuberant, “Me, too!”
And of course I followed up by looking toward the audience and chirping, “And you can, too!”
Audience members stood in line afterwards to have us sign our books and ask nancy Sayre more questions. And I’m still receiving emails from Wanda’s new fans: they’re special-ordering copies of On the Move.