Listening to One Another: A Defense of the Memoir Genre

February 21, 2011 § 35 Comments

Our managing editor Liz Stephens, a PhD candidate in nonfiction at Ohio University and author of the smart, surprising “Ten Years I’ll Never Get Back” in the Fall 2010 issue of Fourth Genre, responds to Neil Genzlinger’s recent attack on the memoir genre:

Dozens of memoirs line the discount table at my local chain bookstore. The slim edge of one book there makes me thrust my hand out in front of another customer before she can lower her own hand onto what might as well have been WWII silk stockings. I want it. Let her huff. She probably wanted the one about getting happy next to my choice anyway. She probably thinks my choice is inexplicable. She might have dropped my choice like a hot tamale. It’s Mark Doty’s Dog Years. And in fact, the book does change, if not my life, then my entire week, and everything I write for a few days.

Would everyone be moved by this book? Absolutely not. Cat people, for starters. People looking for plot, maybe. Looking for muggles or mysteries. On the other hand, on the list of preoccupations I share with Doty: a) pets. B) death. C) New York City in the Eighties. D) fathoming how our loved ones make us face the uncomfortable in everything. How we come out of it, not holy, but better.

Would Neil Genzlinger like my book, Genzlinger who recently in the New York Times expressed his dissatisfaction with that state of memoir publishing? I’d guess not. Presumably he’s over in the aisle with Lee Iacocca autobiography, Pete Sampras, Ronald Reagan. People who’ve Done Something.

But I’m not one of those people. And so how they’ve lived their lives does not interest me, unless their lives are suddenly very relevant to me (my new president) or much later have historical value (Ben Franklin). But me, I will always be mired in the everyday. Still, my quotidian life fascinates me so much that I want to know what others make of it as well, of their train rides, their errands through the streets, their awkward exchanges with daughters. Other people may go to the top of a mountain when their partner dies, and may subsequently write about it, but I for one am more likely, should that scenario come to pass, to do what Doty did. To sit on the bed I’ve recently shared with the deceased and stare at my dog, wonder what he thinks of the whole precious and fraught debacle of our human lives. Every big moment is only, it seems to me, while you’re feeling it, small moments stacked up. I resist anyone’s story that tells me differently. And, gee, I’m just not planning on starting a car company.

“There was a time,” Genzlinger writes, “when you had to earn the right to draft a memoir.” Well, yes and no. It’s true that early autobiography was usually the domain of the celebrated, both in America and abroad. But there have always been the Saint Augustines, of course; and he was a “nobody,” a monk who told us for hundreds and hundreds of pages, in the fifth century, that some days one considers one’s bellybutton and some days one feels the presence of God. So is there a precedent for “nobodies” telling their own stories? Doesn’t this tradition have its own rich history?

In 1906, an editor from New York published a book of “lifelets,” called The Life Stories of Undistinguished Americans as told by Themselves. Butcher, bootblack, dressmaker, cook, nurse, minister. Putting aside the historical value of work like that, which is immeasurable, did it sell? It did.

It ushered in thirty hot and heavy years of writing, and a permanent precedent, for memoir by “ordinary Americans.” E. B. White, James Thurber, Robert Benchley, John Cheever all started as light memoir writers.

Nevertheless, am I interested in all the memoirs out today? Heck no. Some of them I think are not worth the paper they’re printed on. Let’s be honest, you think it too. But what supreme elitism to suppose those might not speak to other readers. The fact that I turn my nose up at some memoir I consider a matter of personal taste, and certainly while my brand of “taste” has been validated by a sort of educated cultural elite, only extreme myopia would lead me to think no other “taste” might be considered worse or better. Furthermore, you can bet there are a thousand people you’ll walk by today who are not interested in lyric essay, disjunctive timeline narrative, any of the markers of high literature which might otherwise absolve a memoir from a humble authorship. Are we all literati? Should we be?

Ben Yagoda, in his book Memoir from which I drew the early century memoir examples above, points out that the appeal of writing by “ordinary” Americans at the time might have been the contrast to other, bleaker, views of the culture; may be, I point out, the contrast these polyphonic voices offer to a more consensual view of any place or culture. We’re all these things, like it or not. We can’t keep Wallace Stegner and not claim Britney Spears (I mean, can we?). We are as much Karr’s Liar’s Club as we are Didion’s Year of Magical Thinking. We’re as much Dillard’s An American Childhood as we are Harry Crew’s A Childhood. And, because we’re keeping it real here, we are as much the woman in Eat, Pray, Love as we are that guy in Tuesdays with Morrie. I haven’t read Tuesdays, because I’m guessing its tone wouldn’t appeal to me, but do I know the way we as a culture deal with aging is an issue for me too? Yeah. I’m just going to have to find that lesson elsewhere, but I’m glad that book synthesized that lesson for so many people.

And do I supposed some memoir about the ubiquitous damage of growing up white and middle-class in a divorced family….well, honestly, I’m having trouble thinking of a subject that has zero to do with me, that’s my best attempt at a book I think may not need to be written….but if I find that book, a book written in a style I don’t like, about a subject I think is vapid, I’ll just leave it on the shelf. For someone else. Because someone else may want that, may be so unconscious of themselves that to see their life reflected back, in a tone they don’t find distancing, could a game-changer. And if none of us think a book has worth, and we all leave it on the shelf, well, that’ll be its own reward, won’t it?

Can Genzlinger tell the woman down the subway stop from him what she should consider worth her time, just because an experience in a text does not speak to him? Some people write for the New York Times. Some people spend a lot of time worrying about their pets. Some people just want to sit down and have a laugh after a long day at work. It’s okay.

What does this fecund memoir rush in publishing tells us about ourselves as a culture? Is this the answer Genzlinger fears? I think it tells us something we shouldn’t worry about: we’re having a conversation with each other in the best way we can, since we may never meet. I’ve read a lot of memoir, since the start of recorded history, and so when I say always, I mean always, since we could write and eventually publish: we’re listening to each other, for all the wrong and right reasons we always have: prurient curiosity, absolution, confirmation, snarkiness, grace, boredom, community, joy.

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§ 35 Responses to Listening to One Another: A Defense of the Memoir Genre

  • Tracy Seeley says:

    Genzlinger is wrong on so many fronts, and his criteria for whose story is worth telling misses the whole point of memoir. At its best, it’s an art form which transmutes the stuff of any life into something compelling and worth reading.

    At the same time, I disagree with the idea that a memoir is worth reading only when it reflects back my own experience, or is “relevant” to my life in the sense that I’ve had similar experiences. St. Augustine’s ‘Confessions’ is endlessly fascinating to me–and not because I recognize myself in it. Same with Mary Karr or Joan Didion or some nobody whose narrative or lyrical skill, whose powers of self-reflection and insight, draw me in to the work.

    Genzlinger’s pronouncements remind me of so many other manifestos. The writer has a preference for one sort of writing or another–and turns that into a universal statement of value. Harumph.

    • Annette says:

      Tracy, I agree – memoir is not necessarily only worth reading if reflects back on your own experience. That is certainly one of the powers of memoir, namely that we tend to learn best from the personal experience of others, but in my opinion, a good memoir gives us a report from the front like nothing else can. Why is The Diary of Anne Frank the most widely read book about the Holocaust? Because it frames a horrible historical calamity in personal terms – readers can relate to that much better than to a history book. It gives them an idea of what everyday life was like for a Jewish girl in Holland in the 1940s, even if she was living in hiding and was going to die, she was still mainly a young girl.

  • Sonya Huber says:

    Dear Liz-
    Thanks so much for this thoughtful piece, which articulates one of the social values of memoir. You’re right: it’s a multi-voiced conversation. Three cheers for this great populist take on the wide, wide world of memoir. Long may it roll and range and ramble.

  • Liz,

    Thanks for your remarks because I’m right there with you reaching for memoirs like Dog Years by Mark Doty. Why? So many reasons but primary among them is that in the hands of a great writer even a doily becomes interesting. The large subjects often emerge from the small overlooked details and at their best memoirists are poets of the everyday. No apologies necessary.

  • Diana Wagman says:

    I didn’t think the Genzlinger article was against all memoirs – just bad ones. He’s read a lot of them and he made very salient points about what works and what doesn’t. Good writing, empathy, a story where the author learns along with the reader. These are the elements of good fiction as well.

    I think some memoirists have a big chip on their shoulder to take this as black and white, as a diatribe against the entire genre. He said there are lots of good memoirs. He did not say they have to be about an important person, only that they have to be a better look at something important to the writer.

    If fiction authors took every NYT article that said “fiction is dead” or “fiction isn’t what it was when Fitzgerald (or whomever) was writing” or “90% of novels should never be written” this seriously, we’d shoot ourselves.

    Get over your bad selves. It’s his job to give just one man’s opinion and he was snarky and mean (and funny), but he ended on a positive note. Think the Dale Peck of memoirs.

  • J.T. Bushnell says:

    A wonderful, thoughtful, generous response to Genzlinger. Thanks for this.

  • cynarmes says:

    I have been reading memoirs for years. The Liar’s Club was the first followed by many others related covering a vast variety of topics, including at least two memoirs about dogs which I thought at first would not appeal to me even though I own dogs. After reading them, I gained new insights into the life of a dog and gained an even deeper appreciation for my three dogs. At the moment, I am reading Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, and even though I may never become as enthralled as she is with biology and insects, I am engrossed in her essays about what she sees in a year spent in Virgina’s Blue Ridge valley. I am traveling to a place and seeing things I may have not otherwise seen.

  • Jane Churchon says:

    Stephens misses the point of Genzlinger’s essay: nonfiction should limit themselves to topics of more masculine interest. He writes, “Memoirs have been disgorged by virtually every­one who has ever had cancer, been anorexic, battled depression, lost weight. By anyone who has ever taught an underprivileged child, adopted an under­privileged child or been an under­privileged child.”
    I think what he means to write is that “memoirs have been disgorged by women, and men who explore topics from a more feminine viewpoint.”

    Don’t get me wrong: some men are fantastic memoirists–Widenman, Alexie, Monson, Doty. But unlike most literary genres, women have led the transformation of the memoir, and their process reflects the interior examination that is coded as “feminine” in this society. Ann Patchett, Annie Dillard, Joan Didion, and many other less well-known writers such as Brenda Miller, skin their pencils raw by exploring emotional landscape rather than factual landscape. Genzlinger’s complaint seems to be that writers are whining and complaining too much; it corresponds all too hauntingly with the stereotypical male complaint about women in general.

    Stephens’ essay’s thrust–that we all like what we like–is not only feminine in its analysis (can’t we all just get along?) but it also allows Genzinger’s thesis to lie untouched. There are shit memoirs out there. I’ve read them and I know. Yes, people should have the right to write them, just as people have the right to write romance novels and how-to-get-rich-quick guides. But Stephens lets Genzinger continue the myth that exploring an internal landscape is somehow less valuable than exploring a landscape that is outwardly centered. In his last helpful comment–and I wish to thank him for his laundry list of do’s and don’ts—he writes, “if you still must write a memoir, consider making yourself the least important character in it.” I agree that the narcissism of memoir can feel overwhelming at times, but laugh at his inability to grasp the contradiction inherent in his Hints by Heloise. Making oneself the least important character in a memoir is impossible. Whether one ostensibly writes of others, or blatantly writes of oneself, one is always–and I mean always–writing about the I. Even in his commentary, he is telling me more about Ganzlinger than he is telling me about anyone else. His words tell me that he is uncomfortable with emotional pain, with long, lingering looks to the past, with any overt gestures toward lessons learned.

    Here are a few suggestions of my own for Genzlinger:

    1. Don’t write about genres in which you have not written yourself. I dare you to write a memoir that is not about you.

    2. Before you relegate someone else’s writing to blog-worthy, consider your own position of power and privilege. Most editors at major newspapers are lucky because they were born to class or gender privileges that are much more difficult to attain when one is a woman, person of color or lower class in this society. Consider perspective from that viewpoint– for many writers, especially women, writing a blog constitutes the possibility of writing at all, because the demands of work, children, husbands and housework do not allow for the luxurious amount of editing that might occur with other types of writing. I don’t keep a blog, except when I’ve traveled, but I understand it to be a way to write and form the general outline of thematic and artistic thought. Before disparaging another entire genre of writing–blogging–perhaps you should consider whether your position is something you earned of something to which, to some extent, you were to the manor born.

    3. Many of us do want to relive other’s miseries, because in often oblique ways, it reflects our own, and allows us to incorporate lessons about our own lives by reading about others’. I don’t particularly care for recovery memoirs, for instance, because I often find them boring (I was a drunk and then I found redemption) but there are insights about human nature in even the most overworked subjects, and the possibility for art (“Tender Bar”). Misery without a sense of humor is just misery; misery relived is often only cringe-worthy. I agree with Stephens that we deserve to read what we like–if you want to read “Dry” by Burroughs, then I’m glad it’s available for you to read. I can be just as elitist as Genzlinger, but I don’t want to exclude other people from writing, reading or publishing what suits them. There is a readership, obviously, for the painful memoir, but the task of distinguishing “art” from “schlock” cannot be summarized by exhorting writers to avoid painful memories in their work. One might as well have asked Updike to avoid writing about the upper class—or have asked Didion not to write about her daughter’s illness. Didion’s pain was as much a part of “Magical Thinking” as her process, and the universiality of her work only reminds us that pain–and laughter–are as much a part of life as they are of a good memoir.

    • Rebecca Fish Ewan says:

      Thank you for articulating so well what also often bothers me about critics who denigrate writing that has feminine or feminist sensibilities. Your suggestions are great too.

      That being said, I don’t see your position and Liz Stephens’ as mutually exclusive. Can’t we all just get along, WHILE we call people out for being chauvinistic boors?

      As I see it, everybody is somebody; nobody is a nobody and anybody who calls anybody a nobody is somebody to whom I’m less likely to listen.

      • Jane Churchon says:

        Rebecca: I apologize if I implied that Ms. Stephen is WRONG. I just meant to suggest that she missed what, to me, is Genzlinger’s largest blind spot in his critique of the genre. I absolutely agree with the sentiment that we would best be served by appealing to our gentler natures and accepting whatever writing comes into our genre, whether we like the work or not. Just as gender itself is fluid, I’d like to believe that the writing genre of my choice (memoir/CNF) is fluid in its definition and because of its generosity of definition, is able to accept most anything that has a nonfiction label on it. I agree with Ms. Stephens; I just disagree with Mr. Genzlinger’s belief that somehow someone is going to be able to define when a somebody becomes a nobody who everybody should stop reading.

    • Janice Gary says:

      Brilliant and right on so many levels. I agree that much of the criticism of memoir (almost always by male critics) is a response to content (esp. anything exploring the emotional landscape — often seen as “touchy, feely, whiny” stuff when written by women and “courageous and ground-breaking” when written by men) rather than the literary merit of the work.
      I’m keeping those Hints by Heloise close by to add some levity when the next, inevitable memoir-bashing review comes out. Thanks, Jane.

  • Jerry Waxler says:

    Yes, Liz, nicely put. My take on the genre is simply that memoir readers are interested in learning about people. My opinion is that this makes us more humane and civilized. 🙂

    Memory Writers Network

  • Chris Roberts says:

    Then there is the “Frey Syndrome.” James Frey’s, “A Million Little Pieces” is a perfect example of why fiction writers should stay away from memoirs. Consciously or unconsciously, it is the same: fictional devices are employed and “facts” are battened-up, made more finished. This is the unreality of reality and it erodes the genre, one book at a time.

  • Liz Stephens says:

    Diana Wagman: As I read your response, with which I certainly agree in part, it occurs to me how much those of us writing memoir can’t resist a juicy conversation. Not only can’t the issues that we address be answered simply – “yes, I paraphrased,” “no, memory is not exact” – we might be disappointed if they could. We chose a form, after all, in which we explore these ideas over and over again, bringing a sort of subset of preoccupations to each new notion we chew on.

    Fiction writers don’t even notice, often, when a critic challenges our definition of fiction. That’s fallen squarely into the domain of critical theory. 1910, the year Virginia Woolf says modernism started, may have been the last time a culture took up the issue of defining fiction’s limits with any vigor. But we are new, us nonfictioneers. Not as a form, not really, but as a market. I’m more interested in the rhetoric of memory and history, authenticity and ownership, than I am in arguing the semantics. But maybe the reason we shouldn’t “get over our bad selves,” not just yet, not for a few more years, is in part to resist the policing of genre boundaries before the genre has had a chance to experiment more broadly, and in part economic – if we are going to make some of our living at this (if not through book sales, of course, then through the jobs we get through book publishing), it matters very much what booksellers, book shelvers, and book buyers think. Just ask Vivian Gornick. Or James Frey. We have to grapple with such a public definition. We need to stay in the debate and engage, if someone at the NYTs is having a say about our baby.

    You write that Genzlinger “did not say they [memoirs] have to be about an important person, only that they have to be a better look at something important to the write.” You are absolutely right. (I laughed at that part; it’s true. I laughed because I remembered the shorthand a workshop director told a class once that his advisor used, after years of speaking carefully, when finally working with advanced students. “Go make this part better,” he’d say.)

    I didn’t address that aspect of Genzlinger’s piece, because I’m not as interested in making a point-by-point case against him. He’s got some great points. I’m reacting to the piece more globally, I guess, as a narrowing of definition, by, as you point out, someone not working in the genre.

    Jane Churchon: I’m so interested in this idea of gendered response. I feel as if I may have covered this concern in an oblique way by trying to keep the gates opened for all variety of work in memoir, war to gardens, interior to exterior, but you’re quite right in my not taking it on directly.

    For what it’s worth, I’m beginning to see surveys of this genre which of course are goosing the process of canonization into happening, like it or not, but I haven’t yet found more literary/critical theorizing on the genre. You might be the person for it. I was glad to have this new view.

  • Jane Churchon says:

    Thanks Liz. I’m not an academician, though I play one on TV. In real life, I’m a nurse—and a writer.

    I forgot to mention Eula Biss in my list of women who write fascinating memoir which is both clearly about the author and clearly about more than the author. She has a wonderful essay included in No Man’s Land which details her experience with Barbies and their influence on her perspective on race. Yes, it’s an essay about Barbies. And so much more, Mr. Genzlinger.

    I think it’s interesting that, as you point out, we’re defining memoir, both in academia and at the cash register, as the genre is defining itself. Just as Bravo TV channel exists in the same medium as PBS, memoir has its Kardashian Konfidential nestled next to its White Album. I’d love to see an analysis the role of gender in either work–or both.

  • Jerry Waxler says:

    What I love about Liz’s piece is that it is a smart, thorough authentic refutation of “memoir naysayers” of whom Neil Genzlinger is a representative. What I get from the article is that stories speak for themselves. The sociology and psychology are built in, and the ultimate message is simply the story itself. That’s true for any story and contains extra dimensions which wrap the story and the protagonist and the author in a delicious weave that speaks volumes about a specific slice of the human condition. I am not genderless. I am a male and when I finish writing my memoir (it’s getting close) it will be the story of my particular intertwined bundle of being, the story of me, with my gender, my biases, my reality, etc. One of the most profound and early experiences I had as a memoir reader was realizing that I was walking inside the worlds of other authors, some of whom happened to be a different gender than I am. Memoirs allowed me to vastly increase my world. Through the magic of empathy, I now have experienced what it’s like to be a battered wife (Crazy Love, Leslie Morgan Steiner), a foster child (Three Little Words, Ashley Rhodes Courter), an aspiring interviewer to the stars (Jancee Dunn’s Enough About Me), an oppressed English literature professor in Iran (Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi), a child of Liberia’s ruling class (House on Sugar Beach by Helene Cooper) a rape survivor (Lucky by Alice Sebold). In addition to their gender, I learned a variety of human experience, country, culture, career, family, mental states, I knew nothing about. I also learned about other realities of being a male that I didn’t know first hand. Vietnam combat vet (Temporary Sort of Peace by Jim McGarrah), a man who traveled to Pakistan to build schools for children, especially girls (Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson), a young high school athlete crippled by polio who had to find himself as an adult (Seven Wheelchairs by Gary Presley), a Jewish immigrant during the depression, (The Dream by Harry Bernstein). These and other memoirs have expanded my understanding of entire swaths of the world that I had only ever seen from the outside. Liz’s article represents to me the notion that there’s no point in trying to reduce memoirs to something they are, because that would mean claiming to know what they are not. In my opinion, any reductionist argument that tries to limit memoirs misses the point. They are simply the stories of human beings, any of the 8 billion who choose to carve out years of their lives to develop the skills and more years to discover the story of the life they have been living. Tthe more stories I read about the lives of my fellow humans, the richer I am. I have heard that some hunters, trying to make peace with killing, thank the deer they have just shot. Since I’m a vegetarian, I devour memoirs, and after I read each one, I thank its author. 🙂

    Memory Writers Network

  • […] Liz Stephens of Brevity responds to Neil Genzlinger of the New York Times here and, I think, makes a really good point. She asks, “What does this fecund memoir rush in publishing tells us about ourselves as a culture? Is this the answer Genzlinger fears? I think it tells us something we shouldn’t worry about: we’re having a conversation with each other in the best way we can, since we may never meet. I’ve read a lot of memoir, since the start of recorded history, and so when I say always, I mean always, since we could write and eventually publish: we’re listening to each other, for all the wrong and right reasons we always have: prurient curiosity, absolution, confirmation, snarkiness, grace, boredom, community, joy.” […]

  • I’m trying not to be offended by Genzlinger’s comments. I’m not succeeding very well, but it’s just ignorance that propels thoughts like that, right? I mean, someone who really understands people wouldn’t think that memoirs should only be written by certain people. Though it is a memoir, my book, BREAKING THE CODE – A DAUGHTER’S JOURNEY INTO HER FATHER’S SECRET WAR is about my father, a WWII veteran. Who is to say which stories are important and which are not? Certainly, when he was a young man, breaking a secret code on a Japanese island, far from his homeland, nobody thought his story was important. In fact, maybe he believed it himself, because he kept it a secret for more than 50-years – until it surfaced in the most painful of ways. There is healing in telling ones stories – healing for both the teller and the hearer (reader). History has shown over and over again that the stories we thought trivial or even common while they were happening were, after the passage of time and the gaining of knowledge, the most important and life-changing of all time. I truly believe that everyone has a story – whether it is a hand-written one handed down to the grandchildren, or one that becomes a New York Times bestseller, all stories are worthy of being told. And all stories are worthy of the time it takes to listen. ~Karen

  • Chris Roberts says:

    I think the larger issue is not who can and cannot write a memoir, but rather, it is the memoir’s foundation. A diary, journal or blog certainly provides a greater factual database, as opposed to memory. If you combine this with first hand information from family, friends, co-workers and the like, the resultant memoir will be as close to a verity as one can get.

    I believe as a whole, memoirs are more akin to vanity writing, and as such, fall into the category of self-publishing. A recent example is Joyce Carol Oates’ “A Widow’s Story:”

    She adds nothing to a life lived reading her subjective, plodding texts, inclusive of every cankering slight, life shift, the unfortunate death of a spouse or a sudden awareness that the entire populated earth has experienced. Leave the author to her niche, though indeed unrecognized by the larger awards, her short stories and the cowboy to his legitimately earned memoir.

  • This debate is never over, is it? How long have writers been bumping heads about memoir’s place in literature? I think it’s simple. Tell a good story, a real story with depth. It doesn’t have to be fantastical. It doesnt have to be about despair or dysfunction. Relevant, yes, but not always in the “oh, I’ve experienced that, too” realm. Relevant, in regard to memoir, simply means – does it resonate? Does the story resonate somehow with my existence? Good memoir is about the shared human condition, not always the human experience.
    Ordinary can be extraordinary; beauty can be in the everday. It’s about tge story; tell it well, find how it resonates. That’s the heart of memoir – every single strand of it.

    David W Berner
    Author, Accidental Lessons: A Memoir of a Rookie Teacher and a life Renewed.

  • […] Genzlinger is most critical of (as commentor Jane Churchon points out in the comments section of this blog post about memoir). Genzlinger thinks that only those who live somehow outwardly extraordinary lives […]

  • Jerry Waxler says:

    Jancee Dunn’s breezy sweet coming of age book “Enough about me” begins with the quote from Emily Dickinson “I’m nobody, who are you?” The quote takes on profound meaning when Jancee begins to interview celebrities for a living. She pursues the search for the meaning in her own life against the backdrop of house visits to household names. After reading the book, and sitting with the story, looking for its message, I ended up with a profound appreciation for celebrity, one woman’s search for identity and meaning, pop culture, etc. And it was the first instance when I became aware of the fact that I was not only reading about a woman. I was inside her state of mind. It’s a perfect example of how much you can get from memoirs if you don’t judge the book by its subtitle. Jerry

  • We are our stories. I blogged a response to this review at the time. I’m so glad to see you take it another step. Thanks!
    Alida Brill

  • […] managing editor and Ph.D candidate in non-fiction at Ohio University Liz Stephens said everything I wanted to say and more. And did it much more eloquently than I ever could: I will always be mired in the everyday. Still, […]

  • R.B. Moreno says:

    Trying for that link once more, sans HTML: “In an Age of Great Nonfiction Writing, Too Much Nonfiction Writing?”

  • Perhaps even more important than having a conversation with each other is the conversations with SELF involved in writing a memoir. These conversations are nearly always transformative and worth while, even if no other soul ever reads the resulting manuscript.

  • vanessa says:

    Hello, My name’s Vanessa. Sorry for any mistaking since English is not my native language,plus I was by myself far away from home a long time ago and have very little education background.I’ve been following the conversation between both groups.Thanks for the internet so we could expressed our thought to the other without driven to see each other(the gases are too expensive).A person idea could be different from other depend on their point of view…My one eyesight let me see lots of celebrities memoirs keep pouring into the markets over the years (please correct me if I’m wrong).What so ever their pass were(like other)those books are always hot because they are already famous:They are the celebrities.Thank you God for giving them the opportunities to be famous so they could help other and don’t have to struggle for the rest of their life.My other eyesight seeing: misery memoirs representing the victims’ heart and soul,it should be treated with respected.It is repeating,but it not death,it just waiting for the unlucky one with extraordinary experienced to reclaim its’ name.To all the best of misery writers or anyone with the connection out there,I need help with my memoir.Part of my story was war relative,United State is the 4th country that i’m settle for good.My childhood was very…you name it.I witnessed too many death.Peoples death of wars,of executed,and painfully death of the love one.As a mother,i sacred for many abused years(almost costing my live)so my children don’t have to go through what i had went though.I never drink,smoke or do drug,only those from the doctor and if i have too.I was always helping families members,and guess what…bad things always happen to good people.My story was not simple like i write in here.I was told by a family therapist that i have 9 life,i agreed with her and the last life i’m living now belong to my children.You see,my stories it’s not just about one person story.It’s about one person with too many bad stories:about suffering,surviving,aspiring and motivating.I’m the living proof:the queen of misery.

  • Jill says:

    To me, memoir is the purest, truest form of writing. So, er, I guess I’d say, suck it, memoir haters.

  • Chris Roberts says:

    Jill – I think all that Jilling off got hold of your reason. There is no “purest, truest form of writing…” So, you really need to suck it and HARD.

  • brevity says:

    Well, the level of discourse has fallen off some, hasn’t it?

  • Chris Roberts says:

    Brevity – Really? Do a quick look around. Do you see a Pulitzer on the desk? Are you a paper publication? No, you’re a web thing. You’re lucky to get any comments. There is no level of discourse that needs maintaining here.

  • R.B. Moreno says:

    Pulitzers and the printed word: benchmarks for high discourse in this century, no doubt. Very astute, Mr. Roberts.

  • Jerry Waxler says:

    It’s a quirk of the ‘blogosphere’ – we’re hungry for truth, hungry to express our perspective on it – and this blog just happened to be where we landed. I heard a neat analogy once of people like birds landing on a tree, chattering for a while and flying off to the next. (I’ve been watching my bird feeders lately.) Thanks for giving me the opportunity to land here and listen and share these amazingly diverse series of perspectives about a subject I (and apparently the rest of us) love.


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  • […] Spring there was a raging debate in the US over the notion of «memoir», of what a memoir could/should be, how it should be written, […]

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You are currently reading Listening to One Another: A Defense of the Memoir Genre at BREVITY's Nonfiction Blog.


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