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Tuesday, May 2, 2017

The Memoir and Autobiography Genres

     How many people take themselves seriously enough, or think they are important or interesting enough, to write a memoir or an autobiography? Judging from bookstore inventories, a lot of people. One would be hard-pressed to name a well-known politician, entertainment figure, television talking-head, professional athlete, or writer who has not written (or had ghost-written) a memoir. But celebrity types are not the only ones who feel compelled to write their life stories, or about specific events in their lives. Ordinary people who have accomplished unusual or exceptional feats; been involved in catastrophic events; had interesting jobs or professions; dealt with serious physical or emotional illness; or have overcome personal problems such as drug addiction, alcoholism, bad marriages, and criminal injustice, write memoirs.

     Sociologist Diane Bjorkland, in her book, Interpreting the Self (1998), makes the point that the memoir/autobiography has, over the years, gained stature as a literary form. She writes: "...autobiographies, as a record of how people have interpreted and explained their lives, are full of rich material for theorists. They are much more than straightforward attempts at personal histories; they are an amalgam of cultural ideas, scruples, rhetoric, and self-presentation. As literary scholars in the last half of the twentieth century have increasingly recognized this complexity, they have shifted from their former neglect of autobiography as an 'artless literature of face' to an appreciation of autobiography as 'imaginative art.' "

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