Truth in Memoirs

Patricia Hampl describes the memoir as the “intersection of narration and reflection, of storytelling and essay writing,” its purpose is to “show and tell.” I think she nails it on the head.  What I find most interesting and appealing in reading memoirs, or personal essays, is the connection that you make with the writer.  A memoir cannot simply be a play-by-play.  In order to capture the reader, or have them make that connection, you must be able to provide them with a more dimensional story – make them feel something, allow them to relate.

However, I believe (especially after the readings this week) that a good memoir does not start with a reader in mind. As Paul Graham mentions, “you’re writing for yourself.”  A personal essay is your own special journey, your own search for truth, and having people read it after just “forces you to think well.”

All of this week’s readings discuss the idea of “truth.”  However, I think the writers have given me a different idea of what “truth” is.  To the average person, the word truth is almost synonymous with “fact.”  In my opinion, after reading these passages, truth is not so black and white. Truth is a journey. Truth is something you search for through your writing. This is explained in the David Nester piece when he quotes Vivian Gornick – “What actually happened is only material; what the writer makes of what happened is everything.” What actually is “fact” is only material to write about – but what the writer makes of that event is what truth really is.  Truth is a more detailed version of what happened – not only does it explain what happened but it conveys thoughts and emotion. This different definition of truth is what makes memoirs different from autobiographies and journalism. 

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