Defining Memoir

Defining memoir seems, at arm’s length, to pose a significant challenge. Maybe this is because we have not delved deep enough into the topic. What is memoir? What is it not? It is, technically, a form of writing and expression in historical and autobiographical form.

Yet Patricia Hampl, in her book I Could Tell You Stories points out that “Meaning is not ‘attached’ to the detail by the memoirist; meaning is revealed.” (Page 31) This signifies that a memoir is not simply a collection of remembered facts, spewed out in a way that the author remembers them. It is much, much more.

Place yourself in the author position. Think of a situation. Now, write. Replay this situation through the point of your pen. But even now, can every detail be written? Can every fact be really true? Can one completely express a memory? Hampl addresses this by stating “Invention is inevitable.” and “Memoir must be written because each of us must possess a created version of the past.” (Page 32)

We have limitations to our memory working in conjunction with our writing. So, we will, at times, fill in the gaps. We adapt a certain style of would-be fiction. Yet, it feels right… as if we relived the situation again, just for a moment. Maybe that’s all memoir really is – writing to relive what you remember… and more importantly, what it meant to you.

Hampl hits the proverbial nail on the head with a quote from Page 33: “Memoir is the intersection of narration and reflection, of storytelling and essay writing. It can present its story AND consider the meaning of the story.”


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