It's overwhelming to think of the number of people we see daily and try to imagine their individual lives, their hidden stories. John Koenig calls the sudden realization of everyone having their own story "sonder,” and bioStories lends a hand in coping with sonder by giving readers nonfiction glimpses into the lives and stories of those around us. New work is added to the website weekly, with two PDF anthologies of this work released per year.
In the Winter/Spring 2016 PDF issue, readers are welcomed by Bari Benjamin with her piece “Sisters.” Benjamin weaves past and present, starting in her 72-year-old sister’s hospital room, and then recounting her relationship with her sister, retracing their tumultuous childhood together to adulthood, when raising their daughters brings them closer once more. Benjamin doesn’t bar her emotions. She peels away old scabs and cries on the side of the road and invites us to witness, a raw piece that prepares readers for the other moments of heavy subject matter heading their way.
Similarly, Gillian Haines refuses to hold anything back in “Fragile Landscapes.” Haines visits incarcerated men while coping with life with her husband after he suffered a stroke, unsure of why she does this: “I wasn’t sure why I felt such a tremendous pull toward confined men when I was already giving too much to a husband who was trapped in a different type of ruin.” Haines focuses on just one of these confined men, Wulf, who had served in the military. Things carry on as normal until Haines discovers why Wulf is incarcerated: “Conspiracy to transport a minor over state lines for unlawful sexual purposes.” Learning the details throws Gaines into feelings of doubt as she questions Wulf, her relationship with him, and their years of correspondence. Haines writes about Wulf with such clarity that readers will walk away feeling as if they too have met this man, whether or not they want to.
Desirée Magney introduces us to Keisha in "Keisha, Urban Warrior," and like Gaines and Wulf, she writes about Keisha vividly enough that we start to feel as if we know her as well. As an attorney, Magney meets Keisha who struggles with staying sober, and who has given up custody of her children, two of which showing up in this piece. Magney gives so much of herself to her job, and it’s evident in just this little snapshot. She’s always available by phone for the families she’s helping, she cares for these children as her own, and she never stops rooting Keisha on, even as the woman struggles and falters. Magney acts and writes with humanity and heart as she shares Keisha’s story.
Elsewhere, Annie Dawid shares the experience of trying heroin for the first time and the self-reflection that descended after in “Almost”; Sheila Luna in "(Un)fortunate Sons" visits the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on Memorial Day, feeling the full weight of the holiday as she recounts memories of wearing a POW bracelet in the 70s; and in "Violations," Jenn Gilgan compares ISIS destroying ruins to the sexual assault she experienced as a child among those very ruins. No matter what the subject, the writers fearlessly bare all, inviting us in to witness their stories and their humanity.
While we’ll never know a fraction of the stories of everyone around us, bioStories gives us a jumping off point. The Winter/Spring 2016 issue holds over 200 pages of peeks into the lives of strangers, an intimate and absorbing read.