We at the 826 Valencia and 826 National families were devastated to hear about the death of Robin Williams. Early in the days of 826 Valencia, Robin sponsored one of our first Young Authors’ Book Projects—and did so in a way only Robin Williams could. He visited Galileo Academy of Science & Technology, a public high school in San Francisco, to inspire their students to write essays on the theme of “home,” and he not only talked about the importance of hard work in the process of self-expression, but he put on a show! The students were thrilled, laughed till they cried, and were thoroughly inspired. From Robin’s visit and inspirational words came the book Home Wasn’t Built in a Day, a riveting, beautifully written collection of student writing that has sold thousands of copies and gave these students a profound sense of accomplishment, self-worth, and the uniquely empowering knowledge that they were heard. The students were amazed that someone of Robin’s stature—and stature in the Bay Area in particular—would visit their school, and so fully support their writing—he even paid the print bill! He wrote a wonderful foreword to introduce the book, and that foreword can be read below. We wish peace to Robin’s family and hope that the world will remember Robin Williams as not only a once-in-millennium talent but one of the world’s most generous and big-hearted citizens.
Family stories are a strange concoction—a blend of autobiography, fiction, and sense memory served up by your favorite relatives and seasoned by time, cultural background, and shared experience.
My mother told me stories of being a teenager in 1930s New Orleans, a world of gay weddings and an artist who had a gorilla as a pet (the gorilla later tried to kill the artist because he fancied his girlfriend). It was a time of jazz funerals and love-me potions dispensed by women with faux-French names, big feathered hats, and monkey-fur accessories.
In opening this book, you enter a world where magic, myth, and memory cohabitate. In these stories, witches, dead Nazis, and lost ancestors all appear around the kitchen table—the place where so many family stories are told and relived again and again.
Some of the details are as familiar as the smell of your childhood home. In other stories, you will be in completely unfamiliar territory. You’ll read, for example, horrific accounts of genocide, told from a personal perspective of a survivor.
These myths and memories are precious, and it is my privilege to have sponsored this book and to present this collection to you. Please read these stories with the idea of visiting the characters and finding the treasures in your own family’s mythology. When oral history becomes literal, there is alchemy afoot.