A three-to-five page assignment

Due Friday 27 May 2011

Requirement 1: Focus
A memoir turned in for this class must be primarily about you, and secondarily  about events. 

Requirement 2: Story and Reflection
"While memoirs tell stories about one's own life, they are occasions in which the writer reflects on her life, tries to make sense of it in the present.  To this extent, memoirs are also like essay--they attempt to make a point."

Writing Memoirs.  Community Writing Center. 

"A memoir is not what happens, but the person to whom things happen."

Virginia Woolf

Clearly, however, there must also be events.   So how do you choose events that will keep the focus on the person?

"In writing memoir, we select moments that reveal our own experiences of our lives."

Lucy Calkins
The Art of Teaching Writing p. 407

Reflection should begin and end the narration, but there is also room throughout. 

In other words, write about a time in your life that was personally significant.  The climax of the story is typically an important moment: 

- a moment that helped define who you are.
- a moment when you gained understanding about how the real world works. 
- a moment when you learned something crucial about life from a person close to you. 
- a moment when you became aware of something about the adult world. 
- a moment when someone helped to take that next step, to grow up just a little. 

Way off--a biography or other story

It's about someone else. 

It's a story about your family. 

Close--an autobiography

It's about you, but it's not personal.   It's a series of events.

It takes place entirely in the past: it just describes the events at the time. 

On Target--a memoir

It's about you; it is personal.

It takes place both in the past and in the present: it tells about the events at the time, but also about how you feel about it now.

Frequently Asked Questions
Should I use real names? FAQs
Does it have to be true?  FAQs also listen to this NPR commentary on
Who would want to read about me?  FAQs
What is the difference between an autobiography and a memoir?  FAQs
Why is it important to write about a significant moment?
(copy and paste
http://www.uwc.ucf.edu/Writing%20Resources/Handouts/memoir.htm into the address bar.) 

Two Definitions of Memoir
Characteristics of a Memoir:
A memory; a description of a time in the past
Usually a brief period of time or one point in the life of the author
May read like a novel, with elements of narrative structure like setting,
XXX conflict, characterization, symbolism, plot, imagery
Written in the first person; told from one person's point of view
Based on the truth, but only from author's perspective
Reveals the feelings of the writer through emotional writing
Has meaning; shows what the author learned from the experience
May contain reflection on lessons being learned as author recalls events

A memoir is a piece of autobiographical writing, usually shorter in nature than a comprehensive autobiography. The memoir, especially as it is being used in publishing today, often tries to capture certain highlights or meaningful moments in one's past, often including a contemplation of the meaning of that event at the time of the writing of the memoir. The memoir may be more emotional and concerned with capturing particular scenes, or a series of events, rather than documenting every fact of a person's life (Zuwiyya, N. 2000).

"In order to write memoir, we need to see that literature is made out of  the everyday stuff of our lives."

Lucy Calkins
The Art of Teaching Writing

Further Examples:

Frank McCourt (PDF)

Jessica (a student)

Gabriel Garcia Marquez (PDF)