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Creating Heirlooms through Words

November 12, 2022

It’s often said that everyone has a story to tell. In Molly Barari’s experience, that’s not quite true.

“I like to amend this statement by saying everyone has stories to tell,” she says. “Each person you meet has copious life experiences that have made that person unique, and it’s great to get those stories onto paper to be preserved for future generations.”

Barari has helped hundreds of South Dakotans begin writing their life stories through her “Heirlooms: Creative Life Writing” workshop, both as an SDHC Speakers Bureau scholar and independently. She developed the workshop after earning her MFA in Creative Writing from Wilkes University in Wilkes-Barre, PA, and fine-tuned it while earning an EdD in Adult Education from the University of South Dakota.

Her own writing practices, along with her education about how adults learn, have led Barari to a “slices of life” approach that participants find both inspiring and manageable. “I developed this workshop to make writing more accessible by encouraging people to write short stories form their lives, not their entire autobiographies,” she says.

“These can certainly be stories about major milestones in the writer’s life, such as birth or death, but my favorites are those about everyday moments in time that influenced the person. For example, there have been stories of experiences cooking with grandchildren, hiking in a beautiful place, or receiving a special antique that has been passed from generation to generation.”

A typical “Heirlooms” program includes ideas to get writers started, tips for making stories compelling, suggestions for organizing narratives, and – perhaps most importantly – a safe space to share stories in progress.

These elements make Barari’s workshop a favorite of SDHC program coordinators and participants alike, as shown by selected survey comments:

  • Molly does a wonderful job connecting with people and making them feel comfortable enough to share their stories.
  • She was diligent in drawing out audience participation and illustrated her points from and with personal experience.
  • The writing timeline was a fantastic exercise to build a starting point.
  • I got lots of good hints and ways to enlarge stories to make them appealing to readers.
  • This workshop was wonderful – so much meaning I’m cramming into an everyday word. Thank you immensely.

For Barari, the most important responses to her workshops are the personal stories of participants, especially those who initially questioned whether their life experiences were interesting enough to preserve.

“It doesn’t matter where you have lived or what you have experienced – your stories are valuable,” she says. “Other people will be glad to have your stories and to connect with you through your words.”

The next “Heirlooms: Creative Life Writing” workshop is Saturday, Nov. 12 at 1:00 p.m. in the Rapid City Public Library. Additional workshops are listed regularly on the SDHC Calendar.

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