Our Grandmothers, Our Selves is a project inspired by a crowd-funding campaign for The Amazing True Imaginary Autobiography of Dick & Jani, a book about my grandmothers (Elizabeth 'Dick' Conklin (Whitbeck) (Bukoski) Barclay and Jane 'Jani' Bell (Seaver) (Graham) Mace), both born into modest circumstances during WWI before women could vote but who cut two very different paths through the 20th Century. Below is a short video I made for that campaign, so you can see something of these two women who were neither famous nor infamous - and how I approached researching their lives.
Meet Dick & Jani:
When speaking about Dick & Jani, people invariably begin telling me stories about their own grandmothers, many times realizing that they had not thought about their stories very much and how much more they wished they knew about these women who were so important to their lives. Many sensed the importance of their grandmothers to an understanding not only of their own personal history but also of our common history. I began to realize that women who lived through the 20th Century who were not famous or infamous were generally written about as afterthoughts or punch lines. Telling Dick and Jani's story began to seem as much like a mission as a book. In writing their stories, I wanted to allow for the full-ranging humanity and attention that male protagonists of 20th Century literature and history have been effortlessly accorded. In a record of the 20th century when subjective experience was valorized, for our grandmothers' lives to be missing means a large part of our historical understanding is missing.
Our Grandmothers, Our Selves is comprised of an evolving collection of photos, stories, reflections about methods of researching and giving voice to our grandmothers, that is creating a community resource to begin to rectify this imbalance. The Amazing True Imaginary Autobiography of Dick & Jani is a long-form meditation of two women's lives. This site will collect as many stories as possible, looking for breadth as well as depth, creating another type of micro-history, in which previously untold lives reveal something new about our unknown histories. Please contact me if you could like to contribute to the site in any way. The broader and more diverse the community, the richer it will be. The honor of your presence - and your grandmothers' - is requested.
If you love the stories you read here, please also consider donating to the site, so I can keep it alive and growing!