Updated: Nov 8, 2020
Special thanks to Myles Ludwig for this guest contribution...
A memoir is an adventure: a magic carpet ride and a time machine.
Diedre Bair’s cozy prose (“Parisian Lives”) transported me to the corner booth in a louche Paris bar-tabac where she took tea with Samuel Beckett in the 1970s as she began her biography of the enigmatic author of “Waiting for Godot” to the garden of Peggy Guggenheim’s grand Venetian palazzo where the doyenne of modernism was wrapped “in an elegant silk caftan, golden slippers and the most extravagant cat’s eye sunglasses, the likes of which I had not seen since the 1950s.”
Memoir took me from my own New York apartment at 96 Perry Street back to the early 1960s and a few doors across the same little street for a view of the tempestuous relationship of painter Adele Morales and novelist Norman Mailer (“The Last Party”) and, a decade later, only blocks from a young Bob Dylan’s folk-singing debut in a funky Greenwich Village club (“Chronicles”) before whisking me uptown in a limo to the sophisticated scarlet-walled salon of the flamboyant Diana Vreeland (“D.V.”) whose imperious personality animated the pages of Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue.
These memoirs bring me into their lives and your memoir is just as valuable as a gift to your children and grandchildren, and to yourself as well. I know that when my parents shared the story of their courtship with me around the dinner table on a Sunday night, I felt the warmth of their affection and could begin to see them not only as parents, but as people with their own complexities. Your memoir is about who you are rather than what you did. It is about the “why” rather than the “what”.
Of course, those two stories are intimately connected. We all lead two lives: an exterior life, the story of what we do; and an interior life, the story of how we feel and think about it. An effective memoir is the story of their connection.
Readers always want the answer to the question: what is he/she really like?
The first story - what we did – is a matter of facts. But the second story – our thoughts and feelings – the why – though more difficult to access, is the difference between a compelling memoir engaging the reader and a simple recitation of events.
Unlike other forms of writing – fiction, nonfiction, poetry, plays, movies, etc. -- memoir is a genre without rules. It has no template, no map we can pull out of a drawer and copy. We must provide the route to help our readers navigate the terrain of our story, and it’s your voice, your style, its authenticity and uniqueness, carrying the reader up the mountains and across the rivers of your life.
The best memoir allows the reader to feel as if you are a good friend in the room with the author sharing a confidence with you. So the memoir writer has to be part reporter, part detective and part cartographer as Graham Greene suggests in his “Journey Without Maps”.
This is especially true if your reader is your children or grandchildren. They know almost nothing about how you came to make the decisions that brought you to them.
It’s time to start your memoir. Let me help you?
MEMOIR MATTERS, an 8 week virtual workshop, is being offered at two levels. The Beginner Series will meet on THURSDAYS, 2:30 - 4:30 PM NOVEMBER 12 - JANUARY 21, 2021 and the Intermediate Series will meet on FRIDAYS, 2- 4 PM, NOVEMBER 13 - JANUARY 22, 2021. For registration and other information please click HERE.
Author photo by, Elvio Salazar