‘Write for Your Life’ champions the telling of unheard stories

By Ted Ayres | October 2, 2023

“Write for Your Life” by Anna Quindlen (Random House, 2022, 215 pages, $26.00)

As a new high school teacher in Long Beach, Calif., Erin Gruwell was assigned students with learning disabilities, disciplinary issues and juvenile records — so-called “unteachables.” After Gruwell had them start keeping journals, they wrote about gang warfare, sexual assault, suicide attempts, apartment evictions and living as undocumented immigrants in America. Ultimately, these writings were published as a book, “The Freedom Writer’s Diary,” that made it to the top of The New York Times bestseller list.

The story is one of several that novelist and award-winning journalist Anna Quindlen uses to illustrate the importance of writing in “Write for Your Life.” Quindlen’s book is an argument for people sharing their thoughts and feelings through the written word, whether intended for a few loved ones or a mass audience. As she writes, so what if the writing is only read “by one or two people you love and trust to understand? If those are people who can learn from and value it, isn’t that a notable achievement, a valuable audience?”

“Write For Your Life” begins with the story of  “The Diary of a Young Girl.” Beyond the obvious import of Anne Frank’s diary, Quindlen believes the diary “holds another lesson for young and old about what writing can do…The message is not just that she was a Jewish girl sent to her death, a diarist who would tell the world how one family had been obliged to live because of the imagined crime of their faith. The message is that writing can offer comfort to us all.”

Quindlen also suggests that texts and emails cannot replace thoughtful journaling and letter-writing. “Isn’t the very nature of e-communication to be cursory in a way that will beggar the biographer going forward?”

We all have stories and no one can tell them as well as we can. While our stories may not be as dramatic as those of Anne Frank or the Freedom Writers, they can be important to those close to us. Perhaps more importantly, they are important to us.

Contact Ted Ayres at tdamsa76@yahoo.com.