One of PWN’s newest instructors, Marissa Elliott, is teaching Memoir. We “sat down” with Marissa to find out her experiences with the genre.
PWN: Hi and welcome to the Project Write Now family! Since we are all writers here, can you tell us something about you as a writer in order for us to get to know you better?
MARISSA: For me, writing is truth telling. It is my mirror, with no distortions. When I’m wandering through the pathways in my own head, trying to sort out experiences and feelings, traumas and desires, writing asks me all the right questions and cuts through the noise. Writing Marissa knows herself; she’s like a good friend who isn’t afraid to say what she means, who is free to want and need and be. I find exquisite freedom in writing. It is the place where all the light gets let in.
PWN: We are so excited to have you teaching Memoir with us. What is your experience with this genre?
MARISSA: The culminating work for my MFA program was a novel called The Unbreakableness of Sand. Though it had a fictional set-up, the feelings and journey were steeped in my own history, in my own loves, losses, and growth. I am also co-authoring a book soon to be published about working in the field of addiction, recovery, and the prison system.
PWN: There seems to be an uptick in memoirs getting published. What do you think it is about memoir that makes this genre so popular?
MARISSA: I think human beings are creatures of community. We inherently crave connection. Memoir gives us a window into someone’s struggles, pain, how they like their scrambled eggs. Memoir is about rawness, sort of the opposite of how someone’s life looks on social media. I think it helps people feel plugged in, and less alone.
PWN: What would you say to the Negative Nellies who say memoir is a form of “navel-gazing” or useless or excessive self-contemplation?
MARISSA: Memoir is just as much a gift to readers as any other genre. It is just as much about the reader’s experience as it is about self-contemplation. And a reader being able to step into another world, another life, to see themselves or their loved ones, their fears and their dreams, all laid out in a set of pages—that is why people read to begin with. Memoir is really not all that different from fiction. Done well, you have the same woven storylines, eb and flow of action, carefully developed, multi-faceted characters. Good writing is a complex art but the key to writing is pretty simple—if you have something to say, a story to tell, then you tell it. Memoir is just one way of adding your voice to the larger human narrative.
PWN: Have you read any good memoirs lately?
MARISSA: I just gave my daughter Anne Lamott’s Traveling Mercies, so I am rereading that with her now. Lamott’s voice, rawness and humor are a delight.
Well, thank you, Marissa, for taking the time to talk to us. We will see you around the Zoom studio.