I've been thinking a lot about memoir, my short stories and how earning my PhD helped. And now, I'm really ready for the New York Times Magazine to interview me! So here are a few questions I'm guessing they might ask.
Questions for Marlene Samuels
What do you make of the current obsession Americans have with memoirs that reveal incredible intimate details? I don't think this is some obsession unique to Americans. Keep in mind some really nasty memoirs have been published in France, the UK, Canada and Australia, just to name a few. If we delve a bit, we'd probably find explicit memoirs in almost every country except - of course, those in which they're banned and the authors have been stoned to death.
The motivation to write memoir really is surprisingly complex, but I think making decisions not only about what to include but especially what to exclude is vastly more difficult. Never mind - I'll take that back, it's mindboggling! We have a responsibility to ask what purpose is served when we tell our life stories. Once we answer that, the next question is whom do we serve by telling it?
The memoir writing process is, in many ways, a personal search for meaning in which the writer tries to share experiences and insights with the reader. It's almost as though the writer is engaging in a "conversation" with potential readers and by sharing a life story helps others as well as the writer. Of course, there's also a less principled side to memoirs - those that are predominantly narcissistic and self-aggrandizing. I suppose that's ok, too. Let's face it - almost everyone has a voyeuristic side. Then, in addition to good old fashioned voyeurism, we also enjoy a bit of "schadenfreud!"
Do you think memoir has evolved over the last century? It seems memoir fans can't even recall any that were popular during the last few years much less the past decade. Yes, I do think memoir has evolved. It's become a genre that's taken much more seriously than ever before. For a long time, the genre was regarded with disdain or cynicism, almost grouped with high school girl diaries or romantic "bodice rippers".