Jun 012015

This week staff writer Kara Brown published a snarky piece at Jezebel titled Delete Your Memoir. She writes:


Go ahead, do it. Drag and drop. Hold down the “delete” button for 45 minutes. Throw away your entire laptop if you must, but just get rid of it. Please, enough with the goddamn memoirs…

If you want to tell a story, do so without centering every single detail around yourself and your pithy afterthoughts. Maybe you have had a life experience that truly is unique and riveting and can teach us all something about life and love and loss and whatever other adjectives you suggest to the person writing your forward…

Better yet, go write some fiction that’s loosely based on your own life but much more interesting because you get to change all the stuff that nobody cares about. Be David Sedaris! He’s got it figured out!

This post REALLY  annoyed me, and not just because I’m  (ahem) writing a memoir.  Here is Brown, using her huge national platform at a supposedly feminist website, to remind other women that their personal stories don’t matter, but if they are going to bother to try to write anyway, they should just write LIKE A MAN — a very specific man who has been hugely successful thanks to a distinctive voice and sensibility that nobody could hope to imitate, even if they tried. And don’t get me started on the fact that all of Brown’s examples of terrible memoirs were written by female celebrities who are not actually writers at all  — but why pick only on women?

Right after I read Brown’s post, I traveled to Whidbey Island in Washington for a long weekend at the Vortext Conference, joined by 60 other women writers and an extraordinary panel of female faculty, including Dani Shapiro, Ruth Ozeki, Hannah Tinti, Carole DeSanti, Rahna Reiko Rizzuto, and Victoria Redel. Vortext is a program of Hedgebrook, a literary nonprofit whose “mission is to support visionary women writers whose stories and ideas shape our culture now and for generations to come.”

I don’t know how to put the beauty of this conference into words. Writing workshops and inspiring keynotes. Women supporting women. Women encouraging women. Writers sharing their hopes, fears, and strategies. Generous, accomplished writers honoring the passion and commitment shown by those less experienced by speaking candidly about their own struggles. Women giving each other PERMISSION that the world out there too often tries to revoke.

So please, do NOT delete your memoir, or throw away your novel, or quit writing your poems. Do not stop doing that creative thing that you love, even it you do it badly sometimes. Do not give in to the voices that want to shame or silence you. Do not surrender to the people who just don’t understand. Don’t be David Sedaris. Be you.

This is me. Reading from my memoir in progress at VORTEXT.



  11 Responses to “Do Not Delete Your Memoir”

  1. Thanks for the thoughtful, well reasoned response to what, I agree, is a snarky post that should have been more carefully considered by the author, who, I gather from the comments is a twenty-something writer who, indeed, likely hasn’t lived long enough to write a memoir that has any depth or insight. I understand her point that many writers who are attempting memoirs don’t have enough to say: they’re too young, or not adept enough to write their own memoirs. But you’re right, the only memoirs she bothered citing were by celebrities whose lives, quite frankly, are generally so privileged that it’s hard to become invested in their “plights” and reasons for writing. There are some spectacularly gorgeous, insightful memoirs out there that are some of the best books I’ve read in recent years: YOU DON”T LOOK LIKE ANYONE I KNOW by Heather Sellers immediately comes to mind. NOW I SEE YOU by Nicole C. Kear was lovely as well — a funny, thoughtful account of Ms. Kear’s loss of her sight. And JUST KIDS by Patti Smith. And EXCAVATION by Wendy Ortiz. I could go on and on. But I won’t. 🙂

    • Thanks, Colette, for taking time to read and comment. There are in indeed so many GREAT memoirs out there that are not celebrity insta-books! JUST KIDS is one of my favorites.

  2. Thanks Sharon – this was timely for me as I leave for Montana in 2 days on my very first writing retreat. I don’t plan to delete my memoir ever, but I’m also at the point of wondering whether to put that one in a drawer and start a new one. I’m hoping this retreat helps me move forward in some way, because right now I’m feeling very stuck with my writing. I’m glad to hear you’re still plugging away at yours!

  3. A thoughtful response to a silly piece–thanks for defending the form, Sharon. If Sedaris’ work is Ms. Brown’s model for an intelligent personal narrative, that says much about her level of reading. And then there those celebrity tell alls. Is this what she reads? How about H is for Hawk? The Faraway Nearby? How about The Suicide Index? Jeanette Winterson’s Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? Rachel Cusk? Dani Shapiro?

    • How about HOLY GHOST GIRL by Donna Johnson!

      • Thanks Sharon. But that book was learning to write in public…sigh. And those writers I mentioned are the ones I look to for an ongoing how to in the craft. I know you understand.

  4. Hi Sharon. Found your post via the binders memoir group on FB. I completely agree with you and have a sense of the high you’re on from your retreat, having attended the Wild Mountain Memoir retreat in March of 2013 where Cheryl Strayed was the keynote, and the faculty was incredible. I haven’t made progress yet on my memoir (formed a non-profit six months after the conference and it’s taken up all my free time) but I did schedule my next writing retreat (finally!) for this August and cannot wait. Keep writing. I love reading memoir – there’s nothing like learning from another person’s experience.