Not long after this post in 2013, I decided that I would try to write a memoir. Two years later, I have read a wide array of memoirs–from memoirs in verse to graphic memoirs to picture book memoirs–and I’ve read books about how to write memoirs, including Handling the Truth and Use Your Words. All that reading, and I have yet to write a word of anything memoir-like beyond the occasional personal anecdote on this blog.
Most recently, my dream of writing my story found me in a memoir writing class. After five weeks of writing exercises, idea exchange, and encouragement, my only progress was adding more titles to my to-read list, including recent memoirs by Ta-Nehisi Coates, Sandra Cisneros, and more. And I’m already on the library waiting list for Why We write about Ourselves: 20 Memoirists on Why They Expose Themselves (and Others) in the Name of Literature, which doesn’t published until January.
Who has time to write when there are all these compelling stories to read?
Until I get all the books read, there’s always this blog, I suppose, for memoirish writing here and there amidst the book recommendations.
“Memoir is a strut and a confession, a whisper in the ear, a scream.”
–Beth Kephart in Handling the Truth
I sometimes think I have a story to tell about my life, but then I’m not entirely sure I’m ready strut, scream, or, worse, confess. If there is a book that can turn off my doubts about my story, it is Handling the Truth by Beth Kephart. The book ranges from practical to motivational, and I finished reading it feeling like I’d received a crash course in the art of memoir. Not to mention I had a huge reading list of all the memoirs referenced and quoted in the book.
There was so much in this book that went beyond writing, beyond memoir. It was a book about seeking truth and love, about telling stories in a way that connects readers and writers. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in telling true stories. Perhaps you will find your strut in its pages.
Find this book at your local library or indie bookstore.
As Kerri Miller’s interview with Dessa started playing, I quickly reached for paper and pen. I found myself scribbling quotes, notes, and ideas throughout the interview. I was doubly grateful for the songs. I wanted to hear them, but I also needed a moment to catch up.
I was particularly struck by what she had to say about authenticity. She came from slam poetry to rap, and she felt like she was faking it for a while. Her journey–her attempt to find a place for herself in music–is fascinating and inspiring.
photo by Stacey Schwartz
She asked, “How many times can you tell a secret and mean it?” It’s an interesting question for performing artists searching for originality and a way to communicate with their audiences. Musicians perform the same songs again and again for different crowds (or local artists often end up playing over and over to basically the same crowd), and they have to bring as much energy to each performance as they can. I am impressed by this. I’m not sure I could.
She also spoke to her own creative process. I was fascinated by her coffee table inspiration: Aesop’s Fables, a guide to Greek and Roman myth, and a King James Bible. She’s not religious, but she is searching for stories in these texts that connect people to one another, our pasts, and our cultures. I have been thinking about where I get my stories, what texts might be behind what I write. What is on my creative coffee table?
Read more about Dessa:
“Dessa’s CD-release party at the Fitzgerald Theater on Friday night was about as far from a rap show as you could get. Backed by an excellent chamber group and back-up singers, and with her Doomtree pals tucked neatly into one of the balconies overlooking the stage, Dessa took the opportunity to cast aside all of her other titles — writer, poet, teacher, rapper — to to focus squarely on her expanding talents as soulful singer and engaging, downright hilarious storyteller.”
“I write slowly, with great effort, and lots of cursing. The feeling I get from crafting a perfect metaphor, or planting a clever seed of subtext is a very powerful feeling. There’s the thrill of personal accomplishment and there’s also a brand of awe—the recognition of a connection that had been previously hidden. But it’s not easy and it’s not really fun, at least for me.”
Thank you, Dessa, for reminding me to take creative risks.
Lynda Barry is my new creative crush. I just finished her hugely inspiring book What It Is, and I am filled with possibilities. The book is part memoir as she tells us the story of how she came to be an artist and part creative workshop as much of the content is based on her creativity workshop, Writing the Unthinkable. Peek inside What It Is with this preview from the publisher.
A few links for your reading pleasure:
Are you living life to the full?
I guess I’ve been exploring this question lately without really thinking about it. It started with a simple fable: The Ghost’s Child by Sonya Hartnett. This slim novel was published for teens, but the subject of looking back on a life as an old woman hardly seems to have teen appeal. It did, however, have Mindy appeal with its magical exploration of happiness. Beautiful.
It wasn’t long after I finished that book that I picked up Ariel Gore’s How to Become a Famous Writer Before You’re Dead. It was just what I needed. Gore, the writer/zinester behind the Hip Mama zine, gives plenty of practical advice about getting published, but she also boils it down to the most basic of basics.
Do you have a story to tell? Tell it.
Do you want to publish it? Do it yourself if you have to.
Do you want people to read it? Get out there and promote the hell out of it.
Her tone is encouraging and persistent. I could not read this book without being inspired. Here I am, hitting the “publish” button and planning for more.