Write Your Autobiography


You don’t have to be famous like Nigella Lawson to write an autobiography.  Remember Barack Obama?  He wrote his first autobiography, Dreams From My Father, when he was at the Harvard Law School.  The publisher approached him because he was the first African-American President of the Harvard Law Review. 

You must write your autobiography for three reasons

1.      Your children will be very grateful when you have passed on.  They don’t have time for you right now because they are still trying to find their own lives.  One of my greatest regrets is not having time for my mother and grandmother.  I have so many questions now and there’s nobody to answer them.

2.      ‘I’m not a writer.’  Yes you are.  You have a computer, you can speak your language very well and you have a box full of old photographs.  That’s it.  There’s an autobiography waiting to happen right there.

3.      Somebody will write about you and you won’t like it.  It’s funny how people who write books about President Obama quote him.  They use his two books for their research.


·        This weekend is the best time because you are all meeting at your brother’s place.  O.K. maybe you’ll get together for the annual family picnic in June.

·        Jot down ideas for chapters e.g. early childhood, marriage, parents’ death, sisters relocate to the United Kingdom, why you stayed in your country, children leave home, floods of 2008, political turbulence, the first election etc.

·        Get your son, daughter, granddaughter, etc. to jot down notes on your computer as relatives remember anecdotes from the past.

·        One of the kids should be the photographer.  They have digital cameras or Android phones with both camera and video.   The designated photographer should shoot video while relatives remember the past.

·        Bring old albums to the table.  Ask the kids to sort them.  It will be fun for them but educational at the same time.  The designated photographer captures all this.

·        Show the kids how fashion goes round and round.  They think they are hip, not realising you also wore pedal pushers.

·        Who will write the foreword?  Will it be your sister or the postman who knew everybody’s business because of the letters and bills he delivered to your door?  Family members might suggest their famous friends to do the foreword.

·        How big is the book, 50 pages or more?  Get a quote.  You will use your own money to publish it but it will be such a thrill to hold your autobiography in your hand.  Dr. Marie Tolliver-Wright’s autobiography is 42 pages, but I learnt so much about her life!

·        Better still, Tyler Perry might buy the rights to your book for his next movie.  Oops!  The Diary of a Mad Black Woman director doesn’t accept scripts.  The poor man is scared of y’all, who seem to be waiting in the bushes, for a chance to take him to court.

Nonqaba waka Msimang is the author of Sweetness the novel.


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