Prose Workshop 230.00K (48776) - Fall 2014 - CCNY




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Nonfiction Intro
Memoir Intro


MEMOIR is a type of creative non-fiction.
The form forces/allows the author to expose her or his life "without the protective masks afforded by fiction." It is the meeting place of creativity and narcissism.

On reputation, Daniel Mendelsohn:

    "Memoir, for much of its modern history, has been the black sheep of the literary family. Like a drunken guest at a wedding, it is constantly mortifying its soberer relatives (philosophy, history, literary fiction)--spilling family secrets, embarrassing old friends--motivated, it would seem, by an overpowering need to be the center of attention."

On popularity, "In this confessional age", New York Observer reviewer Glen Bowerstock said in 1999, "memoirs and personal revelations tumble out in unprecedented abundance..."

In Memoir: A History, Ben Yagoda likens the swell of autobiographies, which had begun in the late 1980s, to a "flood." which Mendelsohn adds "by now, the flood feels like a tsunami."

Times book critic Michiko Kakutani claims the motivating force behind the recent "memoir craze" is "the belief that confession is therapeutic and therapy is redemptive and redemption somehow equals art."


Characteristics of the genre. It is:

  • A memory; a description of an event from the past.
  • Written in the first person; told from that person's point of view.*
  • Based on the truth.
  • Revealing of the feelings of the writer.
  • Meaningful; shows what the author learned from the experience.
  • Focused on one event; about one point in the author's life.
  • About the author's experience more than about the event itself.

    *This person may not be your current self.

Despite its creative enterprising, truth value is of necessarily greater importance than are aesthetic values. This is the genre's essential distinction.

    WE STUDY MEMOIR BECAUSE THE NOVEL is gradually being displaced from its once central position in literary culture. Contemporary culture has been saturated with reality. The insistence of daytime (Oprah) and reality TV shows on real emotions has "created an audience for whom fictional emotions are bound, in the end, to seem like little more than "dramatization without illumination." As this audience demands its real, albeit manufactured and scripted emotions, Memoir seems more apt to provide the fix.

For further reference look at: Mendelsohn, Daniel. "But Enough About Me." The New Yorker 25 Jan. 2010: 68-74. --or read it online--