Sunday, January 31, 2010

Sunday Salon: The Memoir

Not long ago I read a review by Claire Burrows about a memoir at Feminist Review and her closing questions about memoirs and women's writing resonated with me. Today her questions will serve as our query:

What is the role of memoirs? Is it important as women to tell our stories? And why, as women, is it important that we read each others' stories?

My immediate answer was because we need to be heard. Ms. Burrows' questions instinctively made me think of Audre Lorde who had plenty to say about women and our work. She wrote, "And where the words of women are crying to be heard, we must each of us recognize our responsibility to seek those words out, to read them and share them and examine them in their pertinence to our lives." (From "The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action")

As often as I quote Lorde you'd think I've read her extensively but I haven't. Everything I have read by her however has been potent and transformative. I think a memoir by a woman has the potential to move us to new places or heal old ones. Reading women's work gives us a mirror and/or a door to our lives and how we see ourselves in our world. I don't think every memoir is written to change us but I strongly believe in the feminine voice, and I believe hearing our voices is empowering. I enjoy women's memoirs because in a few like I know Why The Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou, The Skin Between Us by Kym Regusa and The Other Side of Paradise by Staceyann Chin, I hear parts of my story and when a woman experiences healing and her own power, I do, too.

What are your thoughts about memoirs? Do you enjoy them? Please expound.


Book Dilettante said...

I must check out The Other Side of Paradise. Thanks for mentioning it. I hope to pen a memoir one of these days. My Sunday Salon

Zee said...

I really do enjoy memoirs. I like the unique perspective on history. History has always been my favourite subject in school and reading someones memoir always shows what I feel is the real history, even if it is a limited one. History is made up of the people who experienced it and reading a book written by someone who was there gives a special insight.

Because of this special insight it is incredibly important to read memoirs written by women as well as men. Women make up 50% of the worlds population and if we don't read their memoirs then we are missing 50% of history.

Great question

jennysbooks said...

I adore memoirs, but I worry enormously, when the memoir writers write about their families, about the fact that they are splashing their family members' lives all over their books, publicly. I don't know - I'm a fairly private person myself, and I'd hate to have all my most difficult memories told to the world by one of my sisters. (Luckily I am the only one of the four of us that writes.) Whenever I read a memoir that deals with a dysfunctional family, I go hunting for interviews where the author explains how she settled the book with her family. (Often not very well, it seems.)

Vasilly said...

I agree that the voices of women need to be heard. For centuries the majority of us were unable to speak and now we can.The role of a memoir, especially women's memoirs, is to have those voices heard, those stories told. Women and men don't always write about the same things. When I think of memoirs written by women, I think of Mary Karr's The Liar's Club, Audre Lorde's Zami: A New Spelling of My Name; Dorothy Allison's Trash, and Anne Lamott's Traveling Mercies.

Marie said...

I enjoy memoirs and don't read as many as I should. It's so important to tell our stories because if we don't,who will? And it's important to read others' stories to connect with their lives and learn from them.

Creations by Laurel-Rain Snow said...

Oh, women's memoirs are my favorites!

Even my fiction books seem like memoirs, probably because I base them on actual events.

My Salon:

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I like memoirs too but like Jenny I wonder about the families. I have read interviews of authors who wrote memoirs who say things like, "yeah, they're not speaking to me anymore!" But speaking of women exposing all and families, do you ever wonder about Playboy centerfolds and what their families think? That would be interesting, I think!

Barbara Albin said...

I really enjoy women's memoirs. I love history and memoirs are little bits of history. I am cleaning today (a novelty) and came across Clifton Taulbert's memoirs, titled "When We Were Colored", had to stop cleaning and sit down and start re-reading the book. It had been about 10 years, and it deserved to be re-read. The house can always wait.