Kent’s Betty Krasne helps people tell their life stories
Updated 11:44 am, Wednesday, August 10, 2016
Betty Krasne wanted to help people write stories that only they truly know — their own. So she started a memoir writing course, “Writing Your Life,” that she offers at libraries across Litchfield county. This fall, she’ll offer the eight-week course at the Kent Memorial Library
Although Krasne, a Westchester, N.Y. emigre, moved to Kent in 1973, her knowledge of the area is drawn from a net much larger than her own memory.
Over the years she’s helped more than 50 people write about themselves, she said., adding that each of the “amazing” stories she has seen written has taught her more about the the people of Litchfield county
Q: You wrote your memoir in 2006. What is writing a memoir like? Just how much time should it take?
A: “A Dangerous Thing, A memoir of Learning and Teaching,” was published in 2006. However, it took many years to write. I was able to finish a first draft in 2001 when I had a sabbatical and was living in France. Then I went back to teaching and it took the next six years to finish, revise, edit, and publish. Memoirs, fortunately, have a long shelf life: People discover the book and write me about episodes that they recognize from their own experience.
Q: You’ve written articles, books and poems. What’s been you’re favorite project? And why?
A: Whatever I’m working on, that’s the project on my mind. If I go out for a walk, I will come back with thoughts about how I can make the work stronger. Right now, I am getting my poetry collection, “Playing the Part, Collected Poems,” ready for printing and working on a novel. The novel is a follow-up to “Body Parts, Stories,” so the novel is on my mind.
Q: You’ve offered this course in Litchfield County six times now, what have you learned along the way?
A: The reason I like offering “Writing Your Life” is I get to meet different kinds of people and I can help them tell their fascinating stories. Everyone who signs up has stories to tell. Hearing them, showing them how to make the telling interesting is what we do in the group.
Q: What does a Litchfield County memoir look like? What are common themes?
A: Some of the people who sign up were born in Connecticut; others came here at different points in their lives. Some participants want to capture what their family was like; others are haunted by a particular episode, like the Ancient Mariner in the poem by Coleridge. One man wanted to pass on to his family what it was like growing up around here back when he was a child. The family hunted for food, but at the heart of his work was a family tragedy and he wrote a remarkable story about it.
Q: You said the course offers prospective memoir writers a “tool kit?” What’s in the kit, and what is the first thing a memoir writer should know before they set pen to paper?
A: The program is eight weeks long and each week there is a writing assignment aimed at showing the group how to use a different storytelling skill. One week we might work on description, another time on using dialogue. One lesson for students is there is no such thing as writing, only rewriting. Often people say they have trouble getting started, but it doesn’t matter how a piece starts off because writers go back and change, or edit.
Q: You taught college level literature courses. How is teaching adults different?
A: Actually, colleges now have students of all ages, and so have my memoir writing programs. However, the majority of participants are older adults, and I don’t have to pay attention to grammar and spelling. People do not sign up to hear me impart a body of knowledge about great writers of the world; they have come together to work on their story telling skills.
Q: What do you hope comes of this project? How many memoirs do you hope come out of Litchfield before you stop giving the course?
Half a dozen participants over the years have gone on to publish full-length works. Some other people have continued to fill out their collection of stories for their families. Most folks probably just enjoy the group process. Much as I like giving “Writing Your Life,” it is an intense program. I am usually involved in organizing the book discussion group for Kent Memorial Library, which is once a month, so I only offer memoir writing from time to time.