Hey! I’m doing another Writing Out Loud event in Chicago this Friday, and Audrey Mitchell (a writer from the “Me, Myself and I” class I lead at the Chicago Cultural Center) is going to be with me at this one, too:
Friday, July 28, 2017
1:00pm – 3:00pm
Ditka’s Restaurant, 100 E. Chestnut
I’ll be signing copies of Writing Out Loud afterwards like always, but the Friday presentation itself will be different than the others I’ve done lately. For starters, this one is at Ditka’s! The restaurant provides lunch (Dutch treat). Second, I’ll be giving a very short in-class writing exercise during this presentation. My hope is that a quick assignment like this might encourage attendees to start writing their own life stories. Third, I’ll have Audrey up there with me!
The event is sponsored by Skyline Village Chicago, a community of older adults in the high-rise neighborhoods on the north side of the Loop. You don’t have to be a member to attend the Friday Forum event, but you do need to bring $5 along on Friday to help cover the cost of the room. You also need to save a spot (no charge for that!), by registering online by the end of the day today, Wednesday, July 26, 2017. You may also register by emailing RSVP@skylinevillagechicago.org with Friday Forum in the subject line, just make sure to do it today.
I can promise you the whole event will be worth attending just so you can meet Audrey Mitchell and hear her read her work. Audrey’s parents came to Chicago from Edgefield County, South Carolina, during the Great Migration. Before signing up for my class, Audrey had spent hours at her computer tracking down genealogical information about her family. After even more time at the South Carolina Archives, the Old Edgefield District Genealogical Society, the Great Lakes Regional Archives, and Chicago’s Newberry Library, Audrey ended up with pages of names, dates, and addresses.
But no stories.
All her family stories were oral. None of them were written. Now Audrey is changing that. She’s getting family stories down on paper, and those of us who are fortunate enough to be in the Me, Myself and I class downtown get to hear her read them out loud every Wednesday .
Once it was decided that Audrey would be one of the writers we’d feature in Writing Out Loud, I took her out for coffee, brought my digital recorder (I told her it was running!) and enjoyed a couple of magical hours listening to her answer some lingering questions about her life story. Here’s an excerpt from Writing Out Loud where I mention that coffee date: Chapter 68, Why Audrey Stays in Chicago.
Audrey can tell how intrigued I am by all her research. Over a cup of coffee at a local coffee shop, she tells me more of what she’s learned.
The 1870 Census was the first U.S. census to list all persons, including former slaves, as individuals. “I don’t have their slave records, but I do know my great-grandparents lived in Edgefield County in 1870,” she says, reasoning that they’d stayed there after the Emancipation Proclamation. “I have oral history and written data to back that up, but what I’m missing is the voice of my older relatives, what they were thinking, what they were feeling and like that. That’s why I keep taking your class. So my stories don’t get lost like theirs are.”
She then reveals that she’s pretty sure she’s figured out who owned her great-grandparents as slaves.
I’ve heard this genealogy stuff can get addictive, but does she really want to know who the slave owners are? Audrey doesn’t skip a beat. “Oh, yeah!” she says.
I drum up the courage to ask an even more awkward question: Why?
Her answer is obvious. I’m embarrassed I had to ask.
“Most people do want to know who the slave owners were,” she says. “In most cases, they’re an ancestor, too.”
Audrey’s essay “Why I Have not Moved to South Carolina” is excerpted in Chapter 68, too. She’ll be reading that essay at the Skyline Village Chicago event at Ditka’s Restaurant this Friday, and she’ll be joining me for the Q&A afterwards to answer questions. I hope you can come! Just remember: you have to register by the end of the day today, Wednesday, to save a spot.