Week #10 Discussion due Sun 11/7
For this week’s Discussion, you will be making connections between the middle section of your memoir and Kendi’s book, How to Be an Antiracist. You will be focusing on three specific events or topics in the middle part of your book, and will need to connect at least one of these sections in your book to something from Kendi’s book.
Besides summarizing and analyzing three key events from the middle section of your book and connecting one of these sections to Kendi, you should also analyze at least one technique (literary device) used by your author in telling their story. You can review the Week #9 Overview page for a list of the various Elements of Storytelling that your author may be utilizing. Pay attention to the “How” section, in particular. Does your writer use description/imagery in any particularly striking way? Does your book use titles of chapters to hint at the key ideas that are reflected in particular events or anecdotes from the author’s life? Are there shifts in narrator, location, or time from chapter to chapter? Do you notice any other unique or unusual ways that your author is using language? (Be sure to also read the Week #10 Overview page before completing the Week #10 Discussion.)
Your write-up should include:
- At least six quotes from your memoir (at least two from each of the three sections you are analyzing from the middle section of your book).
- At least two quotes from Kendi (to connect with at least one section from the middle of your book).
- At least one example of a literary device utilized by your author in their book. (See above. See the Week #9 Overview page for a review of possible Elements of Storytelling that are “at play” in your book.)
(Approx. 450-500 words; more is fine.)
**You will need to respond to another student’s post, as well.
Week #9: Memoir, Part 1
What is a Memoir?
A memoir is what it sounds like: a memory. It is a depiction, in writing, of a moment in time, as experienced by the writer. This moment may stretch across an entire childhood, or it may span the course of a few months or several key weeks in a person’s life. A memoir differs from an autobiography in that it does not attempt to convey all the details of a person’s entire life story. A memoir, instead, attempts to focus on a specific time period of a person’s life, usually a period of some special significance to the writer.
As a reader of someone’s memoir, our task is to listen and to feel. We listen to what the author is trying to tell us, through their literal words, and also through their imagery and tone. We can feel part of their memory and their message through their voice, which is unique to each writer, and which conveys their persona, or personality. Each of us has our own unique writing voice, and we may shift the tone of our writing through our chosen language. Depending on the goal—to inform, persuade, or entertain—our writing will take on different characteristics to suit our purpose. In memoir, each writer may have slightly different goals, but one thing they have in common is the desire to communicate their story.
Elements of Memoir/Storytelling
The tools a writer uses to tell their story are similar to the tools used for other forms of writing—language use, or literary devices, which, like with Elements of Argument, may include imagery (description), repetition and/or parallelism (like in Kendi’s book), irony and/or humor, and the inclusion of various Types of Support, most notably, personal anecdotes. The use of Appeals to Emotion and Appeals to Values can be found through the story being told and the way it is told (the “what” and the “how”).
Ultimately, a memoir will also be making one or more Claims, like in an argument. When you consider what the writer is ultimately trying to say, this is their main point, or Claim (their Thesis). You can consider whether what you are hearing in their story is a Claim of Fact, Claim of Value, and/or a Claim of Policy (or, very likely, all three).
Who, What, Where, When, Why, and How
To begin to make sense of your memoir, which will lead you into a world that is at first unfamiliar territory, you can, after reading the first twenty pages or so to start with, start to identify some of the key ingredients that make up the author’s story.
To begin with, consider who your author is. What do you know already about your author, even before you begin reading? How do you know this? Are they famous? If so, for what? Are they a total mystery to you? If so, then you may be getting your first introduction to them within the book’s first pages. What does the author tell us about him/her self in this first part of the book? What do we discover about the author as the book unfolds? Does anything you find out surprise you? If so, why? How does the author either reinforce our expectations, or challenge them?
What events are depicted in the first third of your book? What does the author share about their life? Your memoir will include a lot of “what” (“what happens”). But there may be a lot of “interiority” presented, as well. This will be the author’s attempt at describing what they were thinking, feeling, experiencing internally (on their “interior”), at the time of the events they are depicting. This is also an important part of what they are trying to convey—what it felt like to be them at that place and time. Notice the events that are depicted throughout the book as the story moves forward.
Where do the events from the first part of the book take place? Does the author even clarify this for us? Does this become clearer as the story unfolds? Or does the author explain this clearly right from the start? Is the location significant to what occurred? Does the location jump around? Notice if the location changes from the early part of the book, to the middle, and then to the end.
When did the events being told occur? Does the author make that clear? Do we have to try to figure it out, based on when the book was written? Did the events occur in a previous century, or in modern times? Is the author telling us about their childhood? If so, at what age does their tale begin? Is the author describing events that occurred during their adolescence? During their adulthood?
Why do you think the author is telling this story about their life? This is similar to the theme of a film or fictional story, or similar to the thesis/claim in an argument. What is their intent or purpose in telling this story? This may be obvious from the start, or it may not become clearer until we find out later in the book what ends up happening. The author may be straightforward with the reader about their intention or purpose, or they may prefer to let us come to our own conclusions. This will depend on the writer’s intention and style.
The “how” of a memoir touches all aspects of their story. How are they using language? How are they playing with time? How are they describing events? What is their tone? Are they being formal, casual, irreverent? How is the book organized?
One thing we count on is their honesty. We assume that the events, people, and places they are telling us about, and the experiences they are sharing with us, and the feelings they are describing are all “real” to them as they experienced, but we should keep in mind that memory is at play in this process, and memory is complicated. It can be “opaque” at times, rather than transparent. It can be cloudy. And so memory is sometimes “selective.” A writer is always making choices, and in memoir, the author must choose which parts of their own story to tell, and which parts to hold back, which parts to describe in detail, and which parts to merely suggest. This connects to tone, to purpose, and to their consideration of who their audience is.
You can consider all these elements as you push off into the waters of your author’s world. Be on the lookout for the new and the unusual. Each new thing introduced will be another piece of the puzzle to unlock the mystery of the story as it unfolds before us.