Is All Memoir Confessional?

January 11, 2013 § 24 Comments

From Brevity Managing Editor Sarah Einstein:

memoirKatie Roiphe is the latest voice in the conversation-of-the-moment about what’s wrong with memoir, sparked by Susan Shapiro’s piece in the New York Times and Hamilton Nolan’s response to it on Gawker. While I’m not willing to concede that there is any particular crisis in memoir at the moment, the article is nonetheless full of insight and good advice.  Turn a critical eye on yourself. Entertain the reader. Write well. Make the reader feel you’re being honest (which, I might humbly suggest, is best done by not being dishonest). All good stuff.  Do those things. Or do your best to do them. They aren’t easy things to do. I try and fail almost every day.

But what concerns me, in this otherwise excellent piece, is the way in which Roiphe conflates confessional and personal writing in the second paragraph. Her purpose, she says, is to “think methodically about what separates good confessional writing from bad confessional writing,” but she then moves seamlessly into a larger discussion about all personal writing.

Is all memoir confessional? Is all personal writing memoir? What is the value of subgenres in creative nonfiction, and what do we lose (or gain) when we collapse them? What do you think?

 

 

Memoir is Not Journalism, Is It?

January 8, 2013 § 11 Comments

CaptureWe have tried for three days to respond to the kerfuffle that has arisen based on Susan Shapiro’s NYT blog piece which resulted in Hamilton Nolan’s Gawker take-down of Shapiro and her tawdry, profit-grubbing approach (he claims), followed by Amanda Marcotte’s Slate take-down of memoirist Elizabeth Wurtzel and  journalism students who fail to focus on the larger world around them, headlined ” … Memoir Finally Hits  Bottom.”

We tried, down here on the bottom, and then couldn’t say anything coherent, and then erased our blog reaction, and then tried again, and then got befuddled, and erased again … In brief, we just couldn’t wrap our little heads around it.

Until it hit us:  THEY’RE TEACHING CONFESSIONAL MEMOIR IN JOURNALISM SCHOOL?!?

We are so used to creative nonfiction programs in English departments coming under attack for our navel-gazing ways that it took us a while to realize this was all about J schools, and budding journalists, and all of a sudden we sort of agreed with Nolan, despite his snarky, uninformed take on things. Or did we?  It still boggles.

Help us out  please. Are they really teaching memoir in journalism schools?  Should they be? Or is it just Susan Shapiro, stuck in the wrong department?  Anyone have any experience, inside information?  Comments encouraged.

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