Riley Langefeld

Riley Langefeld

I began life writing when I was in second grade. Our elementary school had just bought a paper binding machine for our library, and it could be used to make small books with black plastic spiral binding on the outside. I could barely wait for our next assignment as a class: writing a book. We held brainstorming sessions so that each student could think of a story to tell. My friends wrote about talking goldfish, baseball stars, and aliens. But with all the wisdom and egotism a seven-year-old could muster, I decided to eschew fiction and write an autobiography. That tiny book took me almost a week to finish (including the stick-figure illustrations of my birth), and it was the first biography of any kind that I had written.

It wasn’t the last. Through the years I’ve spent writing for various publications, a significant portion of my work has been writing profiles and biographies of community members and public figures. I’ve written about veteran teachers, politicians, national political operatives, academics, activists, university administrators, and a host of other personalities—each with rich, storied histories that brought them to a complex and fascinating present.

In the process, I have conducted hundreds of hours of interviews with the subjects of these projects and the people in their lives. I have consistently seen that the most revealing facet of a person’s life is the relationships they build with colleagues, friends, and family. One of my core aims as a life writer is to catalogue the impact that my subject has had on those people as well as the way they are viewed by their peers. Equally important to the lives we lead are the lives we leave behind when we go. Part of my mission is to capture how my subjects fit into the mosaic of humanity that they occupy in their day-to-day existence.

I’m currently an undergraduate at the University of Michigan studying writing, political science, and history. The reason I have a passion for history is that I get to study the enthralling stories of the people who have, over thousands of years, shaped our world into what it is today. But I know that the subjects of history courses are merely the most noteworthy figures we’ve recorded. In reality, almost everyone has experienced personal stories as complex and engaging as any ancient emperor or philosopher.

I see life writing as the practice of fleshing out these stories and exploring them to their fullest emotional extent—ensuring that the nuance and influence of each is preserved. It’s a rare opportunity to plumb the moments, people, feelings, and happenings that are of deep personal importance to us because those are the things that influence our lives the most, no matter how trivial they may seem to a casual observer. They’re fascinating to read and write about because of their raw emotional resonance. There is perhaps no greater pursuit than to capture such a human experience in its entirety. This is the realm where I hope to write for you.