A person who tells anecdotes in a skillful and amusing way; a storyteller; a narrator
Everyone has a story, even if they don’t think they do. This is a truth Olivia Savoie has long heralded.
Ms. Savoie is the founder, along with her husband Joshua, of Raconteur Life Story Writing based in Louisiana. The purpose behind the business is in the name: to write the stories of people’s lives. But it is more than a business, or even a passion. What Ms. Savoie is doing is in many ways a civic duty.
While studying English and history at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, she decided to interview her grandmothers and write their personal histories. Perhaps fortuitously, her collegiate studies, along with her familial initiative, joined forces to create a career in writing family histories.
“Once I realized what the books meant to my grandmothers and my own family, I decided I had to produce keepsake books for other grandparents,” she said.
Ms. Savoie has gone on to produce dozens of books for a wide range of clients, whom she calls “story tellers.” Most of her story tellers are indeed in their later years, even upwards into their 90s. Her oldest story teller was 105—proof that it is never too late to tell your story.
Intimately, these biographies are created for individuals and their families, but more broadly, they become part of the country’s collective history: varied voices added to our ongoing national dialogue. These stories have included a World War II veteran; a Polish Holocaust survivor; a single mother-turned-Louisiana state legislature house majority leader; a successful lawyer and entrepreneur touting a mere third grade education; and even a love story reminiscent of a Nicholas Sparks novel. A husband in his 80s, whose wife suffers from late-stage Alzheimer’s, asked Ms. Savoie to record their love story so that he could read it out loud to her during his daily visits to see her at the memory care facility.
The process of collecting, writing, and completing these life stories is thorough and time-consuming. According to Ms. Savoie, from the initial interview to the printing of the book, the process takes about six to eight months. The interviews are conducted chronologically starting with their childhood. After she spends approximately eight weeks writing the life story, the subject then reviews it, and the story is then proofread and edited by the Raconteur team.
“The final steps are designing a completely custom book that includes treasured photos alongside the narrative and finally, printing the heirloom books to be dispersed to family and friends,” she said.
Although the stories themselves are obviously unique, Ms. Savoie works to incorporate elements into the book that are specific to the subject, such as using their favorite color in the design or turning their handwriting into accent fonts. These finished books range from 75 to 250 pages and include a customized book cover. Additionally, Ms. Savoie noted that these stories often help establish a stronger bond within these families.
“Many adult children have told me that, although they thought they knew their parents so well, they were surprised to learn more about their inner dialogue, as well as to hear stories they had never heard before,” she said. “Grandchildren also tell me about newfound bonds with their grandparents since they now relate to them in their youth.”
Ms. Savoie noted that her subjects acknowledge the value of producing their life story for their family. But there is something else that drives them to do this. It is the tinge of regret for not having collected the stories of family members who have passed.
“They know firsthand how important memory preservation is, and so they make the concerted effort to document their memories for their own families,” Ms. Savoie said. “I believe it is vitally important for older people to tell their stories so that they can rest assured knowing their memories will never be forgotten and so that they can impart their lifetime of wisdom to generations to come.”
She added that every family has something worth telling. “No one has ever had a life too simple to create a compelling life story book.”