In the 1980s, Pierre Nora coined the term “site of memory” and created a new way of writing history. Chronological order disappears to give way to the objects, people, deeds and places of the present. In reality, Nora would surely agree that a story is a great site of memory, since it captures the experiences of an era on a mere piece of paper. The Story Competition with stories written by the elderly, organised by Obra Social “la Caixa” and Radio Nacional de España (RNE), is now celebrating ten full years of turning experiences into part of our collective memory.
We are indebted to Andrew Stanton for the emotions sparked by films like Toy Story, Finding Nemo and WALL-E. This filmmaker claims that the first lesson he learned from stories is that we have to create them based on what we know, “capture a truth from our experience and express the values that one feels in the most intimate fibre of their being”. And the older one becomes, the more truths we have to capture and tell.
The elderly show us this year after year in the Story competition of stories written by the elderly, whose slogan this year is “if you have an experience you have a story”. Allowing us to read just a small part of what they have learned from life not only makes us feel closer to them, but it also makes them feel more capable of moving us profoundly, as explained by Ignacio Elguero, the director of programmes at RNE and a jury member for the competition. Elguero says that he has seen the talent of “stirring our emotions without fireworks” in many of the participants.
Elguero agrees with Stanton that all stories are based on experience, but he notes that not all the stories submitted to the competition necessarily have to be based on the teller’s own history or in the course of the passage of time. Lola Sanabria, the winner of the 2013 edition with her story The Journey, adds that when she writes she finds it more interesting to capture “what is being forged in society”.
The competition is not just an exhibition of talent but also a method of learning for both the participants and the jury members and readers in general. Indeed, as Elguero explains, it teaches us how to break down clichés, such as that the possible difficulties of gaining access to education in their youth could lead to a low literary quality. Quite to the contrary, he claims that the level is incredible, and he relates this to many of the participants’ attendance in the writing workshops for the elderly held at the EspacioCaixa.
However, some of them have been passionate about writing for a long time. Aurora del Amo, the winner of the 2017 edition with Blanco, began to play with words at the age of 10, “encouraged by a schoolteacher, who praised my writing exercise”. The memory of a teacher was also the spark that motivated Lola, although her literary career took off 18 years ago, time which she has used to define herself as a writer and find her own “space of freedom” in her writing.
The competition shows the elderly just how far their words can go. According to Elguero, they see that “what they are doing is worthwhile; it is seen, it is read, and it can even be listened to” since one of the prizes is a radio broadcast of the winning story. This recognition also encourages them to keep writing. Today, Aurora is continuing with a series of stories about her childhood divided by colours – after Blanco come Verde and Rojo – and Lola is still active on the blog which led her to start writing short stories. The writings by this author and the other participants in the competition are now part of the sites of memory which shape our history, a history which manages to touch us in the “most intimate fibre of our being” as Stanton said and, as with Elguero, thrills us to see them thrilled as they collect their prize or see how their effort has paid off so that at the very least other people can learn by reading what they learned in an entire lifetime.
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