The Hays Public Library will present a workshop next weekend aimed at helping people do more than just follow their family roots.
The library and the LifeStory Institute will present a free workshop on writing a family history at 10 a.m. Oct. 21 in the Schmidt Gallery.
June and Charley Kempthorne, founders of LifeStory, will present the workshop.
Kansas Room Librarian Marissa Lamer said she wanted to offer a program in recognition of Family History Month beyond genealogical research.
“Down here in the Kansas Room, we do have a lot of memoirs, and it seems to be what interests people more,” she said. “A lot of people get their family trees, but what do you do with this information?”
Charley Kempthorne has been teaching memoir writing for more than 40 years, starting out as a graduate assistant at the University of Kansas. The popularity of Alex Haley’s book “Roots” and the subsequent television miniseries in the 1970s helped spread people’s interest in their family stories, he said.
Still, it was sometimes a struggle to help people see the value in their stories, he said.
“The very first day when I gave my little spiel about writing your life, people said, ‘Who would care about my life?’ ” he said in a phone interview from his home in Olympia, Wash.
That remains true today, he said.
“An hour later, they’ll ask you the same question, so they’re not really convinced until they do it,” he said.
One of his first students found success in writing her story, albeit nearly 20 years after taking his first workshop in Manhattan in 1976. Jessie Foveaux wrote a book, “Any Given Day,” of her marriage to an alcoholic, abusive husband in the 1920s and being granted a divorce — something rare for that time.
Kempthorne helped Foveaux get approximately 35 copies of the book published at the University of Kansas Press. Most were given to her children and grandchildren. She gave one each to Kempthorne and the Manhattan Public Library.
In 1991, Kempthorne contacted a Wall Street Journal reporter about doing a story on the LifeStory magazine he had just started and sent the reporter Foveaux's book. The reporter interviewed Foveaux, who was then 97, and after the story appeared, it went worldwide, featured in Newsweek, Time and People magazines, and "60 Minutes."
The publishing rights to her book were auctioned, with a $1 million advance going to Foveaux. Half a million copies in multiple languages were published.
People don’t have to aim for fame or even a published book as a reason to write, though, Kempthorne said. Many of his workshop participants simply want to record history for their own families, but find the idea of writing intimidating.
“Good writing basically is having something to say and saying it in your own authentic voice. That’s what I try to get people to do,” he said.
He doesn’t focus on proper grammar, spelling and organization, he said.
“Nobody ever won the Pulitzer Prize for any of those,” he said with a laugh.
His advice to workshop participants today: “Judgment kills. Just let it go. Be authentic. Write every day,” he said.
“It’s a matter of forming a habit and not worrying about quality and quantity,” he said.