Our Memoir Instructors and Writers Discuss What Memoirs Inspire Them
Memoir is a popular genre here at PWN’s Writers Institute. On our Fall Session I schedule, we have three memoir classes, one flash class, and one personal essay class. And we also have the yearlong book inc program that will start up again in January 2023. It’s obvious we love true stories. With that in mind, we asked some of our instructors and our writers to tell us what memoirs have inspired them.
Jennifer Chauhan, our executive director and instructor for the Memoir Intensive class, says:
“One of my favorite memoirs is Good Talk: A Memoir in Conversations, by Mira Jacobs. I stumbled upon this book when I was searching for memoirs about biracial identity, and I was immediately drawn into its unique narrative structure (it’s a graphic memoir). I appreciated how the author explored themes of identity, race, and interracial families through the conversations she has with others (her son, who is Indian and White, her husband, her parents, her in-laws …). While many of the stories are heartbreaking, Jacobs also elevates the humor and absurdity in her ‘talks,’ which captures the complexity of such difficult conversations. I was struck with a different (even more powerful) way to share personal narratives.”
One of our new instructors, Kate Devine, who is teaching Personal Essay: Lyric & Alternative Forms this fall, says:
“While it may be impossible to select a favorite–my love for many memoirs is so deep–one that I return to often is Joy Enough by Sarah McColl. McColl’s writing style is my absolute favorite: lyrical, playful, searching, deeply felt, exact, so rooted in the body and senses, and wise in its humor. The subject is love and grief, the loss of the author’s mother, and her own divorce, happening at about the same time. These days, McColl writes an equally moving essay series that arrives in your email as a newsletter, called ‘Lost Art.’ Her writing is at once such a pleasure to indulge in and can teach writers so much about craft, style, life … everything!”
PWN instructor Marissa Elliott, who is teaching Memoir on Sundays from 9 to 11 a.m. ET starting September 25, says:
“I am currently re-reading Anne Lamott’s Traveling Mercies with my daughter, Arwen. Anne writes of a life trimmed with laughter and pocketed with raw pain. The topics are large—abortion, addiction, abuse, religion, and yet the spaces of exploration into hardness are manageable. Anne uses vignettes and snippets, brings you close, shows you the things, and then steps away before you can be too broken. The undercurrent of joyful faith shines through, even when being read by a mostly atheist 12-year-old. I think that’s the magic of memoir; inviting people who walk very different paths and who do not share your experiences or beliefs to stop into your life and stay awhile. It’s a way for humans to learn about each other, and about ourselves.”
Jennifer Gaites, our book inc Memoir Incubator co-leader who is writing a memoir alongside her Incubator writers says:
“Our Memoir Incubator read Crying in H Mart together and I loved it … it was well-paced (sometimes tricky for a full-length memoir!), I loved the descriptions of food, and I liked the author’s search for her own identity in the wake of her mother’s death.
Keeping with the H’s … I finally read H is for Hawk and was captivated by the concept—her comparison of grief to a wild raptor that she cannot tame is amazing.”
PWN’s operations and communications manager, Elizabeth Jannuzzi, who is also participating in book inc’s 2022 Memoir Incubator program, says:
“I’m currently reading my friend Meredith O’Brien’s debut memoir Opening the Door: My Journey Through Anorexia to Full Recovery. Even though I know the ending to Meredith’s story, I am drawn in through her vivid and vulnerable details. I’m also awestruck at anyone who can set their mind to writing their memoir and then do it! Meredith is my inspiration as I continue to plug away at my memoir in progress in the Memoir Incubator.”