This blog was featured on 04/14/2018
Do Not Delete Your Memoir
Contributor
Written by
Sharon Van Epps
April 2018
Contributor
Written by
Sharon Van Epps
April 2018

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.

(The picture below is of me, reading from my memoir in progress at VORTEXT.)

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* This post was originally published in June 2015.

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Comments
  • Jan Stone

    The only positive remark from Kara Brown was admitting that David Sedaris does not write creative non-fiction. He's a fiction writer. It's be great if that concept actually got traction. I'm driven to insanity by writers who say they're writing an essay but change details here and there -- like the location where an event took place -- and they still consider it creative non-fiction AND it gets picked up by reputable literary publications who I'm sure have no idea certain facts are changed. 

    Now that I got that out of my system :) I appreciate the discussion on Hedgebrook. I keep toiling with the idea. It looks and sounds like a magical place to create.

  • Debby Carroll

    I pretty much hated everything she said but I must give her points for provocative prose. As a writer she should know better as we are only our stories after all. Or perhaps she does know that but was just trying to attract an audience with controversy. (Who isn't trying to attract an audience after all?) As a memoirist I realize telling my story is a narcissistic activity. But I hope Tales From The Family Crypt does some good in helping others to find their way through the challenge of dysfunctional (putting it mildly) family. And, if Ms. Brown doesn't want to read my memoir, I have an easy solution. She shouldn't buy it! (But she will miss out on a good story!) 

  • Thanks for sharing Sharon! I completely agree with you.

    Let's share our stories and support each other! I love the idea of women supporting women in writing. 

  • Sharon Van Epps

    Thank you, Cate and Allison!

  • It's too bad that Ms. Brown clearly doesn't understand the true value of memoir. I write coming-of-age memoir because I don't want anyone else to write my life stories for me. I know my own life best. I also wish to help my descendants to get to know me through my written words. It's a gift I can give to them, and I don't want to be stingy. There's nothing wrong with memoir writing. It is a dignified endeavor we should all embrace.

  • Sharon Van Epps

    I know, Jenna Sauber -- someone wrote that...and got paid to write it too!

  • Jenna Sauber

    Wow. I can't believe someone would write that - suddenly memoirs are out of fashion or something? While I don't think my life is fascinating, I write a lot of personal essays and hope to turn them into something more than my blog someday. Here's to women supporting women, and women supporting women writing about their lives. Thank you!