A Review of Victoria Chang’s Dear Memory

January 28, 2022 § 1 Comment

By Lindsey Anthony-Bacchione

To read Victoria Chang’s Dear Memory: Letters on Writing, Silence, and Grief  is to step inside the making of a sculpture, to feel the deft hands of an artist carving a body of language from scraps of memories, histories, trauma, and hope. Dear Memory is a masterful work that births a new genre-bending narrative, a true experiment in capturing the experience of the generational effects of losing a language to migration, a culture to assimilation, silence, grief, and the profound effects of racism. Chang delves into Marianne Hirsch’s concept of postmemory when she quotes Hirsch from her book Memory and Migration explaining postmemory  as “the experience of those who grow up dominated by narratives that preceded their birth, whose own belated stories are evacuated by the stories of the previous generation, shaped by traumatic events that can be neither fully understood nor re-created.”

After the death of her mother, while concurrently losing her father to dementia, Chang uses the epistolary form to write letters to the living and the dead, former teachers, fellow poets, high school bullies, her body, memory, silence. In these letters she engages with the experience of absence, burrowing deep into that which is lost, questions unanswered, stories now buried with the dead. She reflects on her upbringing as a Chinese American, being “remarkably Chinese” with no idea what that meant, nor what being American was. She captures the effects of racism with a razor’s edge when she posits:

The racist act is not always the most harmful. It’s the surprise of it, the fraught waiting, each moment like a small trip wire. You never know when you might confront it, so to survive, you live your life in stillness, in self-perpetuated invisibility. And then there’s the aftermath of shame.

Within this devastation, Chang positions herself a most compelling narrator, capturing what it was like to grow up in the outline of a Chinese family in the American Midwest, the disconnection between her and family when she visits them in Taiwan, and the shame and pain of a lost tongue.

I first met Victoria Chang at Antioch’s low-residency MFA program. I was a mom with two young children, a burgeoning teaching career, and 100 pages of a memoir that I could not see my way through to an ending. I could not see my way through motherhood to a writing career. I could not see myself through a grief reignited by the process of writing and remembering. Victoria Chang caught me in a moment when I was trying to compose myself. She asked if I was okay, and I told her I wanted to quit. How was I ever going to do this with two kids? She said to me that I would do it because of my kids. I include this memory, because it draws a dotted line between the narrator I experienced in Dear Memory and the mentor I encountered in a moment of grief and how her words saved me. It was her use of the word because that writing my story and my family’s history of secrets and silence—deceptions by omission—became imperative. Chang dissects these family survival skills with her  language and imagery to cut right to the heart of so many family institutions, “…while my parents may have maintained silence as a form of survival, silence had a heartbeat, grew up, and became the third sibling.”

She quotes poets and writers in nearly every letter, and in her letter to Silence she quotes Mary Ruefle who wrote “what words will do to a poet” when speaking about writing painful experiences. In reflection, Victoria Chang makes this sentiment her own by musing, “I don’t think though, that Ruefle meant that we should only write about painful life experiences or feelings, but rather that we should write to put language at risk.” This is precisely what Dear Memory does. It experiments with this risk and in so doing it weaves together a family history through visual clippings of conversations pasted over unearthed photographs of her family and their migration from China to Taiwan to the United States. She tracks the fracture of this family, an identity lost, a language besieged, when she writes, “I wonder what it would have been like to grow up in a family where everyone spoke the same language. The only language we had wholly in common was silence. Growing up, I held a tin can to my ear and the string crossed oceans.”  Chang knits together a history of largely missing pieces. “The problem with silence,” she writes, “is that you can’t undo it.”

While writers are sure to experience an extra layer of skin in reading Dear Memory,  Chang examines big universal themes in this hybrid creative nonfiction work, stitched together with a poet’s sensibility. When watching a video of her daughter running in a track and field event, she writes, “it was a wonder, beautiful, like watching a hummingbird resting on a branch, escaping itself and its history for a moment that seemed to last a generation.” I can’t help but feel a particular adoration for Chang’s letters that feature glimpses of her daughters. I hear her words “because of your kids” and I can’t help but take away hope. In one letter to a teacher, Chang writes, “…to learn from you that writing was a possibility, not as a career, but simply as a way to move into and out of pain, was the real gift.” Dear Memory is more than a gift. It is an intimate portrait of grief, a reflection on what it means to be estranged in one’s family, culture, and country:

When people leave a country, they leave everything. The land, the smells, the people. The objective is simple: to build a better life, without the incisions of the past.

But what does this do to memory? In a letter to her mother, Chang ponders this concept more deeply when she writes:

I wonder whether memory is different for immigrants, for people who leave so much behind. Memory isn’t something that blooms but something that bleeds internally, something to be stopped.

Victoria Chang’s Dear Memory is a lifeline, a beating heart for all that is lost, taken, or stopped in the quest and hope for a better life: “the making of a person.”

Lindsey Anthony-Bacchione writes creative nonfiction and book reviews. She holds an MFA in creative nonfiction from Antioch University Los Angeles and a BFA in dramatic writing from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. Her work can be seen at About Place Journal, Sentience Literary JournalBrevity’s Nonfiction Blog, and a book review forthcoming in The Rumpus. She is currently working on a memoir and can be found on Instagram @thingsivelearnedfrommydaughter and Twitter @LABacchione.

 [MOU1]I don’t understand “what I misunderstood.”  It would seem it is or isn’t a memoir, whether it’s good or not or whether you can see your way to the end. Maybe just leave out this phrase?

The Obituary We All Need (To Write)

January 27, 2022 § 14 Comments

By Jeanne Bonner

When my father died last month, I had just enough room in his obituary to say he was a masterful gardener, had had four children, and once worked as an engineer on the Apollo space missions. But there wasn’t nearly enough room to reflect how he lived. I couldn’t mention that he was born on the kitchen table of his family’s home or that he chided me for not seeing the movie Schindler’s List, which he hissed was “seminal.” Not to mention his vast repertoire of sounds – clicking, clucking, whistling – used to express, “Here I am,” “not now” or “that’s enough.”

And it got me thinking that each individual life contains so many facets and experiences. To survive life on Earth for 85 years, as he did – or even many fewer years – you deserve more than a few lines about where you worked and how you died. You deserve a proper tribute.

What’s more, if you’re someone who’s survived the death of a loved one and you do any kind of writing, you have an acute need to use that skill to honor the person lost. And the form of writing known as an obituary is familiar to almost everyone. So I began to write the obit I thought my father deserved, and it challenged me, as a memoirist, to figure out what was unique about him – but also what’s worthy about each person.

I also had to understand why I so desperately wanted to write it.

I returned to the 250 words I’d written for the local paper, which seemed so few. An actual obituary, I concluded, isn’t for what makes someone unique. It’s quite standard. Not that the newspaper dictates rules, but you feel obliged to simply list one’s profession, loved ones and a few accomplishments. So I’d omitted that when I was growing up, the youngest of four daughters, he could rule by voice alone, using it to entertain, to instruct, to praise – or to chastise and spar.

No mention of his devilish sense of humor, shaped by comedians like Jonathan Winters, or that he dared me to wear two different shoes to school for a week when I was in 6th grade.

Plus, the standard obituary allows for no nuance. The person you’re eulogizing in print has been transformed into a saint.

That was frustrating — and I think now I know why. The exercise wasn’t long enough – or authentic enough — to assuage the grief. The act of contemplating his life’s achievements (and his idiosyncrasies, good or bad) through writing is deeply satisfying. It’s like the written version of the Catholic wake, and it reminds me why certain types of family memoirs are so popular.

Writing about loss – in my diary or on Facebook – feels useful. It’s also revealed a tribe of grievers that has become my own. Some of them lost parents or other family members at the dawn of the Covid era, and weren’t able to properly mourn. And they are desperate to memorialize their loved ones, but perhaps not in the habit of writing, which could offer solace. Hence my obsession with re-writing this obit.

Henry David Thoreau wrote in Walden, “I should not talk so much about myself if there were anybody else whom I knew as well.” Right now, I’d amend that statement to read, “I should not talk so much about my father if there were anybody else whom I’d studied so much.”

And I wanted the obit to reflect the full shape of those studies – not just the marquee moments. The experience of witnessing his decline brought into fine relief tiny things, as if the specter of death sharpened my skills of observation. Like in the final year of his life when words only trickled out of him, I found even his cough sounded distinctive. After a lifetime of hearing him conduct vigorous discussions and hum old tunes on the stairs (he especially liked, “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore”), it was all I had of his voice.

Did you know your father’s cough – or your mother’s – is unique?

If I am honest, I wanted that original obituary to make up for what went unsaid. And so much went unsaid, long before he languished for a year under the pall of end-stage blood cancer. I am mindful of his favorite play, Eugene O’Neill’s “Long Day’s Journey Into Night,” about the saga of an Irish-American family during one hot day in 1912 where the grieving wife notes “the things life has done to us we cannot excuse or explain.”

I believe he thought a lot about what life does to us. Is that unique or special?

No. Not special enough to merit the kind of long, lavish obit you read about octogenarian starlets and Nobel Laureates.

But there is something special here, and it’s how I feel about him.

What looms large isn’t the specificity of his life – that he was an engineer by vocation as well as occupation or that he gardened religiously – but rather what looms large is his importance to me.

In my mind, he’s akin to Gabriel Conroy’s father from James Joyce’s “The Dead,” an unseen presence whose influence is powerfully felt. Indeed, I could quote my father all day, like he’s some mashup of Jesus, William Shakespeare, JFK and Humphrey Bogart. Which probably says more about me than about him.

When he fell ill last year and my mother struggled to care for him, I had the belated realization that my parents had been superheroes all of my life – in other words, at the exact moment their super powers had begun to wane. Not because they were perfect parents but because they were the architects of nearly everything I am.

Writing has given me a way to express this revelation. And it’s the real reason I need to rewrite his obit here. I dare say I am not alone. Because our parents – and perhaps grandparents or other caregivers – are the headliners of our lives. They are famous, maybe only to us, but that feels real, doesn’t it? And it means everyone’s parent deserves a long, full, detailed obituary, in an attempt to get at the enormity behind this primal relationship.

I think of Paul Auster’s memoir of his father, The Invention of Solitude; much about his father’s life wasn’t special. In fact, Auster was gripped not by conventional grief when he learned of his loss, but rather “the realization that my father had left no traces.”

“Even before his death, he had been absent,” he writes.

Yet Auster is still immediately moved to write about his father because our parents – even in their absence – leave such a deep impression.

“The past is radiant,” Patricia Hampl writes. “It sheds the light of the lived life.”

And now, the past that included my father seems especially radiant, as I long for anything that will shed light on the life he lived. Attempting to write the obit I thought he deserved – both here and in my diary — has allowed me to bask in that radiant past and has performed a sacred, necessary task: Taking stock of who he was, with the hope of sharing these thoughts with others.

Which means we all need to find ways to write remembrances of our lost loved ones, if writing is to help us make sense of the human condition.

As a writer and a teacher of writing, I embrace the practices of writing regularly and maintaining a record of one’s thoughts, ideally through a journal.

From what I’ve observed of the tribe of grievers that took me in, this message is so critical for anyone experiencing grief.

Jeanne Bonner is a writer and literary translator whose essays have been published by The New York Times, Catapult, Longreads, Literary Hub and CNN Travel. She’s won a 2022 NEA translation grant for a collection of Italian short stories she’s translating. You can read her blog at http://ciambellina.blogspot.com.

Happy Writing

January 26, 2022 § 24 Comments

By N. West Moss 

My first rule of writing is to never beat myself up about the work, and I don’t. I don’t beat myself up if I sit down and write something lurid, crappy, sentimental, or incomprehensible. I don’t beat myself up if weeks go by without finding time to write, and I don’t beat myself up if I write something great and no one wants to publish it. Writing is the great passion of my life, and because of that, I protect it, even from myself. 

The world can be a sour, judgmental, stress-filled place. It seems to be forever shouting at us to be productive, as if productivity (whatever that means) were everything. If we don’t have something to sell, then where’s the value in what we’re doing? We’re supposed to get up before dawn every single day, and labor over the conveyor belt of writing, constantly “upping” the word count on the ever-increasing leviathans of our books. If we don’t, if we pause to think or read or grieve or, God forbid, enjoy the lengthy process of choosing the right word, we’re supposed to feel like failures. 

I count almost everything as writing. The unsuccessful stories and books stuffed into drawers? Yup, that’s writing. Staring at the ceiling is also writing, as is revising, as is research, as is just plain old living. I didn’t have much to say until I was in my forties, by which time I’d been beaten-up by life a bit, and had formed some opinions. It was in my forties that I found myself wanting to show complete strangers what the world looked like to me. I was a writer before that, but living is what gave me material. 

This push for measurable productivity threatened to ruin writing for me. A few years ago, I was trying to write a scene wherein my protagonist was at the beach on Coney Island. I spent hours on it, trying to make it work, and it just kept coming out false and flat and lifeless. Finally, I sat back and thought about what I was trying to do. I realized the scene was not working because this character was inherently shy and would never go to the beach or take his shirt off in front of anyone. I cut the scene. 

If I used word count as the only metric to measure whether the time spent on that scene was successful, I would have to have called it a failure. But that dead-end, and many similar ones that I faced as a memoirist later, was one of the best things that could have happened. Because I tried a scene and failed, I learned something critical about my character – that he was shy. The discovery told me to write the character’s story rather than impose a story on him. It was the moment in which I finally understood what it meant for a story to be character-driven. Cranking out a couple thousand words and then deleting them was, it turned out, very fruitful indeed, even though I ended that day with fewer pages than when I’d begun it.   

This doesn’t mean that I’m a lazy writer, either, or that I’m easy on myself. I work hard, and am open to feedback. I quite often revise a piece more than fifty times before I’ll let anyone see it. Dissatisfaction with the work is allowable. The kind of despair that leads to quitting is not. 

We have all racked up our share of rejections and negative reviews. The public can be cruel, unforgiving, and judgmental, and it is a given that we will never be enough to appease a sullen world. So I don’t try. I commit to art, and because of that commitment, anyone or anything that makes me want to quit is banished. The world might pile on, but I refuse to. It feels like the least I can do.  


N. West Moss has published a collection of short stories, The Subway Stops at Bryant Park, and a memoir, Flesh & Blood: Reflections on Infertility, Family, & Creating a Bountiful Life. She has a middle grade novel, Birdy, forthcoming from Little, Brown. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Salon, McSweeney’s, The Saturday Evening Post, etc. Find her on Twitter: @scoutandhuck

Writing Is Writing Is Writing

January 25, 2022 § Leave a comment

By Michelle Redo

“She said yes!” I squealed to my husband Phil.

“What?” he exclaimed, unable to read my mind, as I always assume he can do.

It was a Sunday morning, mere moments after extending an invitation to Zibby Owens, mastermind behind the Mom’s Don’t Have Time To Read Books podcast. She’d said yes, she’d talk with me on my little podcast! Zibby launched her podcast in 2018. Since then she’s expanded into a Mom’s Don’t Have Time To do much of anything empire. She knows a lot about brands, and loves branding, as she went to Harvard Business School. I went there, too. Their cafeteria was across the B-School’s giant parking lot from my old radio station, WGBH, when it was on Western Ave. in Boston. She got her MBA. I just got lunch.

There’s a lot to love about Zibby’s podcast, and I got the chance to tell her so when I interviewed her for Daring to Tell. I love the opportunity to listen to engaging conversations with writers…an uninterrupted half-hour to speak with writers was something she loved, too. Her genuine enthusiasm for each writer is irresistible. I’ve discovered I don’t have to be interested in the book or even the genre to be interested in what the author has to say. Writing is an art and a craft that’s delightful to plumb and dissect. You don’t have to like the final product to relate to the process.

Zibby and I talked about what actually counts as writing. She made a point that I heartily endorsed: even an Instagram post is writing. Yes, a different type of writing than essay or memoir. But writing is writing is writing. We’re choosing the content and structure of a message for an intended audience. And most of the time, shorter is harder. It’s why a word count restriction isn’t a curse of limited space, but a blessing for a focused message.

Zibby’s observation that reminded me of my radio spot-writing days. One of my favorite campaigns was our web spot, a daily 15-second promo highlighting recent stories. The spot always started, “Today at WGBH News dot org…” and ended, “…if you missed it on the radio, catch it online at WGBH news dot org, right now,” which left about seven seconds for a compelling and descriptive headline. It was a challenge in theme and variation: see how we got the website URL in there twice? How we reinforced our primary product, the radio…and featured information from a recent story that was almost as good as hearing the feature itself.

My inspiration for the campaign had been discovering the #ICYMI hashtag—In Case You Missed It—on Twitter. I wanted to reinforce local stories unique to our station. Those radio spots showed me how much I love crafting a pithy, memorable phrase, and the discipline that comes from daily practice. I thought the campaign might last six months…five years later it was still going. The spot was voiced by our station’s news editor who’d formerly run the Boston Phoenix for many years. His Kennedy-esque Boston accent and gravelly tone were iconic. People hearing him in coffee shops asked, “Hey aren’t you that guy? If you missed it on the radio? Can ya say it? Say the line, Right now.” By popular demand.

Now, as a podcaster, I have the luxury of all the time in the world. But the lesson of tight writing has stuck. It’s about respecting your listener’s time, and writing a hook that relentlessly distills a message to a single focus. Saying the most in the fewest words. Like a puzzle. Poetry, even.

How do you think about writing? Perhaps in three sizes, Tweet, Medium and Amazonian? Do you write batches of posts in advance? Do you strategize targeted promotional campaigns? Or simply attend to them as a daily discipline? Zibby Owens makes time not only for those IG posts, but also for the other writing that’s part of who she is… including her own memoir, Booked: A Memoir of Love, Loss and Literature, due out this coming July from Little A.

And me? I’m working on more Tweets, but podcasting allows me to keep doing the kind of writing I enjoyed in my radio days…writing words that someone will speak aloud. Now, instead of the radio announcer or voice talent, it’s me!

Hear my conversation with Zibby Owens now out on Daring to Tell, where you can hear her talk about podcasting and publishing, writing and stories.

Michelle Redo is a podcaster, writer, and book lover, the creator and producer of Daring to Tell, and audio producer for Heart of the Story podcast with Nadine Kenney Johnstone. Michelle was also a thirty-year, award winning public radio veteran at WGBH in Boston and has taught audio production at the Banff Centre, Banff, Canada. She lives in Maine and tweets @michelleredo.

What We’re Looking For: Michael Steinberg Essay Prizes

January 24, 2022 § Leave a comment

Mary Cappello, Steinberg Essay Prize Judge

From Patrick Madden and Joey Franklin

This winter marks the third Michael Steinberg Memorial Essay Prize , since it was named in honor of Fourth Genre’s founding editor, who died at the end of 2019. It’s also our third year as editors, and the second year we’re also holding a Multimedia Essay Contest. All this has us taking stock of the curious responsibility that falls every year, not only to our guest judges, but also to us as editors. Looking back through the archives, we see two decades of preoccupation with similar questions: What constitutes creative nonfiction? What makes up a memoir? What passes as a personal essay? Since the journal’s first issue, whether it be in roundtable discussions, craft essays, or editorial notes, the directors and contributors of Fourth Genre have attempted to describe, define, and delimit the boundaries of the personal essay. 

We thought it might be useful to any of Brevity’s readers who are working toward their own understanding of the genre for us to briefly highlight some of those ideas from the past 20 years. And we hope it might also give interested readers a glimpse of “what we’re looking for” as we accept submissions for our two contests. 

First, a little wisdom from our personal essay contest namesake, Michael Steinberg:

  • “Most of my memoirs grow out of a need to interrogate my own thoughts and feelings in the hope of discovering something about myself that I couldn’t have found out any other way.”
  • “I also write memoirs because the form suits my temperament and disposition . . . I have a predilection for self-scrutiny and rumination, as well as for self-disclosure.”
  • “I believe that the artfully crafted personal essay or memoir is uniquely suited for our times. I say this because today our need to pay attention to the singular, idiosyncratic human voice is perhaps more urgent than ever before.”
  • “A lot of nonfiction writers are narrating only the literal story of their experience, and leaving out the ‘inner story’; that is, the story of their thinking.”
  • “The mind never stops searching for connections and asking questions. And that’s the thinking/feeling self I’d like to see more of in the personal narratives I read, both as a teacher and as an editor.”
  • “When we’re reading manuscripts, we’re always hoping to encounter a fully present narrator and a curious, idiosyncratic mind and imagination in the act of thinking things out on the page.”

And here are a few gems from this year’s Steinberg Memorial Essay Prize judge, Mary Cappello, author most recently of Lecture (Transit Books, 2020):“In order to write or make art one must be in love, not with an individual per se, but with life itself.”  

  • “Have you noticed that literary nonfiction is getting more and more wisp-like these days? I’m happy for an alternative robustness. The license for a work to morph, to exceed its placement, forgetful of itself, for a spell, even if, in the end, words insist on returning to the airy nothing from whence they spring.”
  • “It’s a problem that I have with finding pretty much everything interesting. It might be pathological. Or it might be what makes me an essayist.”

And finally, from Wayne Koestenbaum , this year’s judge for the Multimedia Essay Contest and author, recently, of Figure It Out (Soft Skull Press, 2020).

  • “What no one taught me is that to write I must sink away from one form of conscious navigation and surrender to what language decrees. I must dwell firmly enough within the language-net to feel that my experiences in the moment of writing are a consequence of the words and not simply their catalyst.”
  • “I believe in the persistence of play. All my writing is grounded in the practice of reckless verbal improvisation. I think it’s Winnicott who says somewhere that health is the ability to play.”
  • “I listen to what language tells me; I instigate the process, but once the language commences its relentless hum, punctuated by doldrum and silence and distraction and Instagram and anxiety, then I occupy the position of the cook who has been given the lamb and the milk and the lettuce but didn’t create them. … I can’t make myself known to you without this rule-governed armature, whose wendings and reprisals must take precedence over my ideas, even if language’s caparisoned marauders need the mulch of my ideation in order to have a ground to trample.”

“What we’re looking for” has never had a straightforward answer at Fourth Genre (nor likely at any other literary journal). We are all looking for good writing, and for those of us on the hunt for the best of the personal essay, we’re also looking for good thinking, expressed artfully.

We hope you find these few quotes to be helpful and inspiring, and if you’ve got a project in your files that you think might fit, we hope you’ll consider sending it to one of our contests by the March 15 deadline.

On Structure and the Lyric Essay

January 21, 2022 § 1 Comment

In our new issue’s Craft Essay section, Australian poet Lesh Karan discusses how she had “pretty much given up on prose,” until she met the lyric essay.

It was as if I found myself a new lover. I was on a cloud-nine high: I didn’t have to write a tightly knitted argument required of a critical essay. I could loosely stitch fragments—even seemingly unrelated ones. I could leave gaps. Lean on poetic devices such as lyricism and metaphor. Let juxtaposition do the talking. I did not need to know the answer, nor did I need to offer one. It was up to the reader to intuit meaning. Whew!

Read her Full Essay here.

Queering the Fragment

January 20, 2022 § 2 Comments

In the Craft Section of our newest issue, Emilio Williams offers his uniquely-constructed essay “Inside the Box: On Queering the Fragment,” using Barthes, Sontag, and writers such as Wilde, Stein, Proust, Kazim Ali, Maggie Nelson, and Carmen Maria Machado to explore the “mysterious craft [and] magical physics” of queer texts.

From Sappho’s fragments to the graffiti of male-staffed brothels in
Pompeii, the earliest queer texts have reached us in snippets. For centuries, the only
possible first-person narratives for gender dissidents were diaries and letters, always
expected to remain in the private sphere, destroyed posthumously, and often “prehumously.” Perhaps historical impediments may have inspired the virtue of fragments to a
more liberated generation of writers. Call it a lyric essay or not. But if we consider
fragmented text, those are intrinsic to the queer experience.

Read his full essay here.

On Meg Tilly, Early Trauma and the Rise of the Fragmented Memoir

January 19, 2022 § 2 Comments

Dramatic Monologue for Women - Meg Tilly as Sister Agnes Agnes of God |  monologuedb

In our Craft Section this month, Sonja Livingston explores the link between trauma and fragmented memoirs, and that unlikeliest of literary pioneers, Agnes of God * :

I have fallen for a thirty-year-old memoir.

That fact that a memoir snagged me isn’t surprising. For all the genre’s pitfalls—the dogged self-reference, unmitigated earnestness and occasional fibbery—when a story is both well-told and true, its power is unparalleled. A good memoir can magnify silenced voices, shed light on overlooked places and connect us beyond the pervasive divisions of this world. That the book was published in 1994 also doesn’t trouble me. What is thirty years in the life of a book? No, the astonishing part is that I was nabbed by a celebrity memoir. Because I prefer how a book is written to what it’s about—and celebrity memoirs tend to be, by definition, more about subject than craft—swooning over one is no small thing. 

Read the full essay here:


  • Full disclosure: Meg Tilly, the actress, not her character Agnes, wrote the book. But that’s pretty amazing as well.

Brevity’s January 2022 Issue Available Now

January 18, 2022 § 2 Comments

We had to chip away at the ice to make it happen, but our newest issue is live, featuring exceptional flash essays from Beth Kephart, Kerry Neville, Aracelis González Asendorf, B.J. Hollars, Grace Bauer, Sarah M. Wells, Keema Waterfield, Caitlin Scarano, Deb Werrlein, Troy Pancake, Hannah Grieco, and Nels P. Highberg.

Also, three useful and brilliant craft essays: Sonja Livingston reflects on trauma and the writing of actress Meg Tilly, Emilio Williams offers “Queering the Fragment,” and Lesh Karan reviews the importance of form in writing lyric essay.

Thanks to our writers, and to those who have generously donated to make it possible

BREVITY 69 / January 2022

Memoirists: Worried Your Story “Isn’t Interesting Enough”?

January 17, 2022 § 5 Comments

You have a memoir idea, maybe even a first draft, have poured your heart and soul into the project yet the insecure voice that asks “Who will even care?” refuses to quiet itself. When you read what you have on the page, the emotions swell up in your own heart, but you wonder if the words will come alive this same way for a reader.

These are basic concerns facing all writers of memoir. Though our stories – the truth of our pain, our struggles, our progress, our redemption – reverberate on a personal level, we don’t write for ourselves, we write for others. So, how do our personal stories become universal, resonating with readers who don’t know us?

How, as Jeannine Ouellette asks, can we write “the kind of truth that makes somebody else’s heart beat faster with recognition?”

I’ll be offering a 75-minute Webinar in conjunction with Jane Friedman later this month exploring the difference between a Personal Story and a Public Story, and highlighting specific craft choices that help stories resound deeply with potential readers.

Remember this: though writing remains a solitary pursuit, we aren’t alone. Our potential readers are an audience of living, breathing, curious people on the other side of the page. Only by focusing on these readers, by acknowledging that we are creating something for them, something that has value, something that will enrich their existence, will we find a way to truly reach our audience.

I sincerely hope you can join me. The details are here:

Even if you can’t attend live, everyone who registers will get access to the recording. 

%d bloggers like this: