Tag Archives: memoir

Why We Write About Ourselves (edited) by Meredith Maran

  • Title: Why We Write About Ourselves: Twenty Memoirists on Why They Expose Themselves (and Others) in the Name of Literature
  • Editor: Meredith Maran
  • # of Pages: 254

For the many amateurs and professionals who write about themselves—bloggers, journal-keepers, aspiring essayists, and memoirists—this book offers inspiration, encWhy We Write About Ourselves: Twenty Memoirists on Why They Expose Themselves (and Others) in the Name of Literatureouragement, and pithy, practical advice. Twenty of America’s bestselling memoirists share their innermost thoughts and hard-earned tips with veteran author Meredith Maran, revealing what drives them to tell their personal stories, and the nuts and bolts of how they do it. Speaking frankly about issues ranging from turning oneself into an authentic, compelling character to exposing hard truths, these successful authors disclose what keeps them going, what gets in their way, and what they love most—and least—about writing about themselves.


I love memoirs. Short, long; old, young; essay style or full-fledged story; it doesn’t matter. I read memoirs by people I know and memoirs by people I’ve never heard of (and probably never will again). Sometimes I’m drawn by the story they tell, sometimes I just like their way of telling it. I’m fascinated by the ability to turn a personal experience into a universal one, an experience strangers, who have never met you, want to listen to, even feel a part of. We don’t always have to escape into fiction; sometimes plain old reality already has the brilliant characters and gripping plot. (And let’s all admit it, it’s always exciting to look up these people on Facebook afterwards and see all the characters commenting on photos in real life!)

The format here is simple: a chapter per person. There’s an introduction written by Maran, a quick summary of said person’s personal life and publishing history, and then a sort of freestyle, not exactly interview yet not exactly essay section written by the memoirists themselves. There are no leading questions which gives each one the opportunity to discuss whatever they want to, although most cover the basics: how I started, why I started, what the future holds for me. Every chapter ends with a “Wisdom for Memoir Writers”.

I picked up Why We Write About Ourselves in order to understand a bit more about the genre, about how those who write it do it, and why. I recognized a few of the twenty contributors, I’d actually read only a few. I wasn’t bothered much by that since, as I said, the “who” doesn’t matter to me. If someone has a good story, it’ll be good even without a proper background check and Wikipedia review. That theory definitely proved true.

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And now that I was getting an education I was starting to understand what it meant not to have one.

TJ Parsell, Fish: A Memoir of a Boy in a Man’s Prison