Students will write true stories from their own lives to be read aloud and commented on in class. Memoir writing has a long and interesting history. Once thought to be the province of people who’d lived extraordinary lives or accomplished amazing feats, or been important in politics or war or religion (e.g. Julius Caesar, Saint Augustine, Winston Churchill), they’ve come, through the centuries, to be a form of writing open to all people—prisoners, actors, teachers, lovers, addicts, philosophers, housewives, chefs, walkers, hikers, runners, policemen, students, moms, dads, dog owners, astronauts, bug-watchers, and everyone in between. They’ve become especially popular for writers, publishers, and readers in the last few decades, in which many of the books on bestseller lists have been memoirs written by ordinary people (e.g. The Liars Club, Angela’s Ashes, Eat, Pray, Love, The Glass Castle). Critics of the upsurge in memoir writing suggest that not everybody has an interesting story to tell, that young people in particular haven’t experienced enough of life to be writing their memoirs. This class operates on a different assumption. What makes a memoir interesting for the reader is the quality of the writer’s attention, the sense of life as its being lived, the seeming presence of another person, a consciousness revealed, and, of course, the writing. We all have stories to tell and hearing other people’s stories helps us think about our own. Writing our own stories, using our memories, helps us see our lives in new ways, helps us be honest. As the great contemporary memoir writer and teacher Abigail Thomas says, “The writer of memoir makes a pact with her reader that what she writes is the truth as best she can tell it. But the original pact, the real deal, is with herself. Be honest, dig deep, or don't bother.”
We’ll also be reading short pieces of contemporary memoir by Sherman Alexie, Mary Karr, Junot Diaz, Jeanette Walls, Jamaica Kincaid, Dagoberto Gilb, and others.
Helen MacDonald, author of H is for Hawk will be visiting UCSB in March for the Raab reading series, giving a public talk and meeting with undergraduates. We’ll be there!
Thomas, Abigail Thinking About Memoir Sterling (the hardcopy edition of this book is out of print; there is a Kindle version)
MacDonald, Helen H is for Hawk Grove Press