CCTE: Pedagogy I -Reading the Memoir

Mary Hartje Angelo State University
“Reading the Memoir: Challenges of Teaching Creative Nonfiction”

This is a live blogging of the session.

nonfiction always a vital genre
5th c autobio emerged with Confessions of St Augustine

Memoir: A History Ben Yagoda 2009

might have carefully studied essays, but my experience was void of reading nonfiction
learning experience

some of same techniques as in poetry, drama, etc

start a study with the history
memoir v. autobiography
admits he uses them interchangeably
a book understood by all as a factual account of authors life
however memoir can be used to cover entire life or part of it

Confessions was first.
Confessional works, spiritual memoir genre, popular with 21st C readers

20 types of memoirs
conversion and captivity- 17th, 18th
trauma and celebrity- 20th C

works refer to actual people, events, and facts
within nonfiction: traditional and literary

traditional = journalism, criticism, technical writing

literary = diary, journal, memoir, essay, autobiography

form of creative nonfiction is malleable, expressive writing

works of creative nonfiction share a number of somewhat objective for defining and assessing creative nonfiction —
from Root and Steinberg The Fourth Genre

personal presence
not debatable

work reflects self-discovery and self-expression
standard literary analysis of character
memoirist is the narrator, narrator is telling own story
Bruce Ballinger “this difference… lack of gaps… most distinguishes … the memoir”

factual truth of the story is fundamental to its authenticity
how keenly we feel that
based on memory, how does memory work, limitations
David James Duncan “Non-Fiction Equals Fiction”
“every creature… is distorted before it reaches us by mirages… best … imperfect images…”

truth may not be veracious enough to take to court, must meet writer’s needs

“Autobiography in the Age of Narcisissm” impossible to avoid self-justification

Tobias Wolff, This Boy’s Life
effective memoirist creates
reader can sense if there is an attempt to be real
Angel above humanity, person in the middle.

creating an awareness of the tone on truth

What devices does the author use to gain our trust or substantiate the truth in the memoir?

The Liar’s Club she id’s what she does remember, doesn’t remember, thinks happened
We trust Karr because she is honest about her memories.

sense of truth in the telling

veracity of a memoir = tone and stylistic details
parallels reliable narrator in fiction
unreliable narrator undermines truth here though

flexibility of form
dramatic, expository, argumentative

draws on narrative chronology
also on non-linear (Julia Alvarez’s Time of the Butterflies)

story in past, being thought of in present, read in the future

nonfiction prose– rich variety of literary voices
can tolerate rhythms, rhymes, discursive ideas, as well as stories and metaphors

poets can be authors of amazing nonfiction

tension, irony, tone, setting… all used … foreshadowing in Wolff’s This Boy’s Life
“as Dwight drove them back to Seattle he stopped on the bridge… the salmon… were already dying”
Dwight’s description of the salmon distinctly foreshadows the death of the dreams of Wolfe and his mother

I Know Why the Caged Birds Sings Maya Angelou
black sleeve usher… couldn’t distinguish… hearing the odor of death
introduced to death and own mortality

rich variety of literary voices

Each work presents its own challenges.
Dispatches by Michael Herr, journalist in Vietnam
students had to confront unusual context:
stances on war
technical military language
drug culture of the 60s

Teaching the memoir was valuable. As teachers, we are always students. Observing and analyzing from a fresher perspective.

Mary Karr came to ASU Writer’s Conference in 2010 interview is in Concho River Review
wants to write a book about memoir, sometime between E.M. Forester book and John Gardner’s work on novel

Crafting Truth probably also intended for writing creative nonfiction

Students fascinated by nonfiction study. Wanted to see where nonfiction and fiction diverge and how they overlap.

Tim O’Brien The Things They Carried
A River Runs Through It

both of these say they are writing fiction, even though they are written based on truth

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