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Memoir

The requirement of an autobiographer is that he write the "truth of his experience", but memory is a delicate subject now isn't it? When my family gets together, inevitably the talk turns to "remember when?" One brother will start to tell that story of how my mother dumped water over his head to wake him up and the rest of us will roll our eyes at each other remembering how it really happened. It is a time and a place, memory, but it is also a person. One person. One person who remembers it as it was for her. We must read a memoir as if it were her truth which means much of the lines will smudge together where we won't be able to read in between. We must be okay with that. Perception is reality after all.

I've been writing a whole lot about myself lately and I often think about a quote from the literary journal Creative Nonfiction: something about how your family will hate you once you start writing about them. I'm careful when I write. I'm careful to tell it only from what I saw without judgement (where possible) and without consideration about why that person was doing what he or she was doing. Of course memoir includes 20/20 hindsight and so I might now know what was happening from a grown ups perspective, but I'm trying not to include that part. I leave the reflection in my writing notebook when I can.

My dear friend Tara Smith who is a 6th grade teacher and blogger at A Teaching Life told me to read Writing A Life and I'm so glad she did. I am going to be teaching a workshop on memoir as I'm writing my own and this book is helping me in so many ways.
I'm also going to be reading memoirs all year long. I may sneak in one or two other books (I'm dying to read Sara Pennypacker's new Pax that's coming out next month), but for the most part I want to read about how people remember their lives and share them in words. If you've read an autobiography that moved you, please do share it in the comments!

Comments

  1. At the root of the word memoir is memory. I worry that I don't remember enough to really write about my life. I recently read a local author's memoir about living with HIV. But there has to be a way to write memoir even if your life is not traumatic or tragic, right? I need to get Katherine Bomer's book. I look forward to seeing where you go with this.

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