The Self-Curiosity Memoir

June 4, 2013 § 3 Comments

magf09ft2eDebra Gwartney, author of Live Through This: A Mother’s Memoir of Runaway Daughters and Reclaimed Love, has a valuable blog post up this week looking at “A Few Memoir Pitfalls.”  Good reading to remind ourselves, and particularly useful for those of us who teach:

Here’s an excerpt.  The full essay can be found here:

…The most skilled and engaging memoirists, to my way of reading, don’t dwell quite so much on what happened, but instead on the question that I feel is at the heart of memoir: why do I remember a particular episode (series of episodes) that way? Again, how is my version of the event (not the event itself) serving me and my sense of self?

What the reader doesn’t want, and can’t invest in, is a self-pitying narrator. The those bad people did this to good me mode of writing memoir gets tiresome in a hurry. “Don’t sue your reader for sympathy,” I once heard the great Phillip Lopate say.

Instead of self-pity, then, self-curiosity. Instead of a string of excuses, the memoirist does her best to set aside defensiveness before entering the past and examining it anew. As Sven Birkerts writes: “Now, then. Past, present. The sine qua non of memoir, with the past deepening and giving authority to the present, and the present (just by virtue of being invoked) creating the necessary depth of field for the persuasive idea of the past.”

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§ 3 Responses to The Self-Curiosity Memoir

  • Sarah White says:

    Amanda Knox’s new memoir is such a good example of this. I feel that, for a young woman and relatively inexperienced writer does a pretty good job of indulging in self-curiosity instead of self-pity. Not a perfect job, but good enough that her lapses merely make her seem authentic.

  • rachaelhanel says:

    Reblogged this on We'll Be the Last Ones to Let You Down and commented:
    A great reminder of what makes memoir work. It’s not the events per se, but why you are remembering these certain events. Figure out why the memories mean so much to you, and you may be on to something.

  • Angshuman says:

    Thanks for sharing the blog post. Debra’s essay is extremely useful. I am planning to write a memoir on my sister, so this came at the right time.

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