A person who tells anecdotes in a skillful and amusing way; a storyteller; a narrator
There is an African proverb that muses, “When an old man dies, a library burns to the ground.” Olivia Spallino Savoie, 23, is dedicated to preserving Acadiana’s proverbial libraries. Within the collective pasts of every day men and women is where the true history of a region lies, and these are the stories Olivia is collecting and preserving. Through her company, Raconteur Story Writing Services, she creates personal heirloom memoirs.
Growing up in Youngsville, Olivia was especially close to her grandparents. From a very young age she was passionate about older generations. Olivia’s harp lessons led her to perform at nursing homes where she made friends and became enamored with stories of Acadiana from yesteryear.
“When I graduated from college I knew I wanted to do what I love, which is telling other people’s stories, so I set out to make that my life,” she reveals. “I create family heirlooms by interviewing people and guiding them through the process of recalling their lives from childhood to present day. I take their own words from that interview and I write a complete autobiography for them and integrate photographs and significant documents. It’s a book that their children and grandchildren will have hundreds of years from now.”
To determine if she could unearth someone’s entire life through an interview, Olivia began with her own grandparents. After seeing her own family’s reaction to the memoirs encompassing their history, she knew she had to share her gift with others. So she started her company and began conducting interviews. Olivia’s first goal is always to make the individual she is interviewing as comfortable as possible, often times this means going to their home to conduct the interview.
“Once they’re comfortable, I have a list of about 150 questions or prompts,” she explains of the process. “I start with the earliest memories: ‘what was your mother like? What were your Christmases like?’ Then I progress to high school, meeting their spouse, if they have any military experience. It’s very organized. I break it down so that it isn’t overwhelming for them.”
Olivia has had the honor of hearing firsthand the stories of those who built Acadiana…mostly figuratively, but occasionally…quite literally. She met with retired contractors who developed some of the oldest areas of New Iberia and Lafayette. She’s helped to preserve the stories of electricians, educators, community leaders and farmers. She has heard in depth stories of the ebbs and flows of our region’s industries, like oil and gas and sugar cane. Olivia had the privilege to heirloom a love story for a man desperate to preserve it for his spouse who was suffering from dementia.
“I love hearing the stories of people who built our towns – who contributed to our history,” Olivia expounds. “Oddly enough, I love when I sit down with someone who says ‘Well my life wasn’t that special. I don’t have much to tell.’ I love proving them wrong by finding all of those little moments from their life that made a big impact.”
Once the memoir is complete, the story is beautifully bound in a linen book. Olivia works with a graphic designer who custom creates covers inspired by the contents of the memoir. Olivia also host workshops through local nursing homes. She consolidates a few of her favorite prompts from her interviews to a 20 question workbook. She works to inspire them to see the value in their story, and hopefully to share it with their families.
“We talk about their oldest memories as a group, because it brings their memories back very vividly,” Olivia explains of the workshops. “They have the opportunity to respond to some of the prompts in private. I do follow up workshops and when I come back they will have filled out the entire workbook. That makes me so happy.”
Many people fear that the declining mental or physical well being of the loved one who holds their family’s story will prevent them from having the opportunity to preserve their unique history. Olivia’s passion and patience prove just the opposite. She urges families to understand that having something, no matter how small it may seem, is far better than having nothing.
“Of all of the goodness I get out of my career, the worst feeling I get is when I explain to someone what I do and they say, ‘I wish my mom was still alive to do this,’” she reveals. Citing the aforementioned proverb she continues, “I love to have a part in Acadiana’s library. I can’t save them all, but I can save a few of them. There are so many beautiful libraries we have to save for the families, but also for the community.”