Thursday, March 29

Writing about the Self

Slate looks at the state of the modern memoir this week. The memoir has become less about coming-of-age and more about other issues aside from the self. And while writers are writing about themselves, it can't be helped that they write about family, friends, lovers who all feel like they've been implicated in the story whether they like it or not.

There's Mary Karr who tells us how she informed her family and friends that they'll be appearing in her book. Alison Bechdel does tell her mother that she's writing about her father, but notes that she didn't really asked her mother permission to write about it. Or you can take Edmund White's tactic: Tell your lover s/he's being written about and then run.

Jess Row also looks at how the Woman Warrior holds up after 30 years. Woman Warrior is in that weird gray area between fiction and nonfiction, a book without a genre. Row writes:
At various times it has been described as a memoir, an autobiography, a novel, a manifesto; yet anyone who spends 10 minutes with it understands that none of these labels really apply. Not because Kingston sets out to exaggerate the "facts" of her own experience, à la James Frey, but because she deliberately acknowledges that to write autobiography is to stand at the borderline between memory and invention. Like the "ghosts" in its subtitle (the word refers to the white Americans around whom Kingston grew up in Sacramento), The Woman Warrior stubbornly refuses to be either entirely fictive or entirely real. Perhaps the second most remarkable thing about the book is that in its wake, the American literary world still seems to regard the tissue-thin boundary between memoir and fiction as absolute and inviolable.
If you follow the links, you can also read about Toni Morrison and "rememory" and how a lot of women writers now owe Tillie Olsen. But all in all, very interesting reads.

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