Memoir Is an Art

Even before co-founding RLM, Samantha was in the business of helping tell fascinating, empowering life stories. So how does an experienced editor get that way? You’re in luck—she’s got a story about that!


About a decade ago (although it feels like a lifetime), I got a call from a colleague who wanted me to help her edit a book. Susan Costello, the editorial director of Abbeville Press, explained that this project would be kind of a memoir and kind of an art book. That sounded baffling, but I love Susan and would have copyedited the Yellow Pages for her.


Wilhelmina Cole Holladay, the book’s author, was the founder of the National Museum of Women in the Arts. Mrs. Holladay—and she was universally referred to as “Mrs. Holladay”—might look like a placid socialite, but it turned out that she was a dauntless visionary with an amazing life story.


Sure enough, the manuscript for A Museum of Their Own was part privileged autobiography (she was Madame Chaing Kai-shek’s social secretary!), part art history (her personal collection included works by Georgia O’Keeffe!), and part Washington tell-all (Madeleine Albright! Bunny Mellon!).



Working on this project would be one of the highlights of my career. I felt classy just putting my Post-it notes all over Mrs. Holladay’s prose, and she was always gracious when she responded to my queries. I swooned when Abbeville sent me a copy of the gorgeous printed book, only in part because she thought to praise me in the Acknowledgments. Editors live for this kind of recognition, folks!


It feels like coming full circle to mention that the museum and I are still on parallel tracks all these years later. NMWA is sponsoring a virtual project called “Reclamation,” which invites the public to contribute content that honors “women’s roles in the practices and traditions surrounding food.” (By all means, become part of this historic project by submitting your own recipes, photographs, videos, and stories!)


And we at RLM are proud to announce that we’re rolling out our newest prototype, a memoir/cookbook hybrid that aims to do the same thing—to tell life stories through our connections with food, family, and traditions. We’re beyond excited to share our newest vision for bringing life stories to life, so stay tuned!


For now, take a moment to reflect on the strength of your connections, especially to the women in your life. The future is female, so the saying goes, but the present is looking pretty bright too!