“How does the past live on in me?”
~ Lucy Winer
Our Elders’ Stories is a literacy project devoted to providing a space for fragmentary stories to be told by the grandchildren, descendants, and spiritually connected loved ones of people labeled or seen as mentally ill or mad who experienced harm, suffering, and oppression during their lifetimes, in the communities and societies in which they lived, as well as in colonialist care systems, institutions, and asylums rooted in white supremacy.
During the years since Madwomen in the Attic was founded, in the meeting spaces in which we have gathered, we have found that in telling our own stories, the stories of our elders emerged, often finding a way of arising alongside, within, or in relation to our stories. The experiences, suffering, and cruel treatment of those who came before us occupy our hearts today.
Many of us know about an elder –be it a grandparent, a great grandparent, an aunt/uncle, or a person we knew– connected to us who suffered cruel treatment during their lifetime because of discrimination and stigma attached to social differences and mental illness labels. However, stories about our elders may only have been passed down, in bits and pieces, through word of mouth, or shut away entirely and never spoken about. Often, the stories of the lives that our injured elders lived and the hardships they faced end up buried with our elders, by families because of shame and by the power-holding entities that oppressed and harmed them.
Usually stories about the elders who came before us who were cruelly mistreated and maligned, are stories to which we do not have a great deal of access; however, they are stories that travel with us in unique ways and that need to be archived, given safer space, honored, and remembered.
In order to preserve fragments of the lost stories of our mistreated and suffering elders, we are creating an archival space devoted to fragmentary storytelling– to fragmentary stories told by the descendants, relatives, and loved ones of elders who were mistreated and maligned by communities, families, institutions, and authorities in power in 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries.
The shape of the storytelling and the stories told will depend on the storytellers and the relationship they are forming with their still-living or deceased elder. The archive is a non-normative memorial space, as it is a space for difficult stories to be told and righteous rage to be expressed in the present about the past. It is a space where ancestral trauma can be acknowledged and ancestral power can be reclaimed, countering erasures and colonizing narratives, and ccountering the silence of ancestors who were deemed mad and wiped out of conventional families, communities, and histories.
You do not have to be a direct descendant of the elder about whom you write; you can be related in other ways, but we ask all who submit fragmentary stories to consider the implications of sharing information about another person.
Our elders’ stories are not ours to tell, but we can tell fragmentary stories of our own that honor their lives and their suffering, while also naming the oppressions they faced: that is what this project is about. These stories can be our own stories about our journeys to connect with and acknowledge respectfully our loved ones, their suffering, and the past.
If you have a story that you would like to share about an elder, please send your submissions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include the story/essay, a statement about your relationship with the elder about whom you are writing, if it is not included and made evident in the story/essay, a biographical statement about yourself, and a photo, if you have one and can share it, of your and/or your elder.
Editors of Our Elders’ Stories
Nicole Crevar (she/her) is a book lover, an adventure seeker, and a passionate educator. She currently resides in Tucson with her King Charles Cavalier pup, Libro (yes, his name is “book”). Nicole is a 3rd-year PhD student at the University of Arizona studying English Literature. Her research interests include, Chicanx/Latinx literature, madwomen and mad theory, literature of resistance, and neoliberalism. Nicole has forthcoming publications with Vernon Press. She can be reached via email at email@example.com.
Maria Rovito is a PhD candidate in American studies at Pennsylvania State University. Her research interests include feminist disability studies, Mad studies, women’s writing, and American literature. She has published on the question of Madness in women’s literature and has developed theories in relation to feminism and Mad studies, including Madwoman theory and feminist Mad studies. She teaches courses on gender studies and feminism, as well as disability in American literature. She identifies as Mad.