Writers On Writing / Lee Kofman on emotional honesty in memoir

‘The best memoirs are not ‘lessons’, but rather quests.’

Lee Kofman is the author of four books, including the memoir The Dangerous Bride, and is co-editor of Rebellious Daughters, an anthology of prominent Australian memoirists. Her short works have been widely published in Australia, UK, Scotland, Israel, Canada and US. She’s worked as a writing mentor and teacher for 14 years.

What do you think makes memoir such a popular genre?

The attraction might be in part because this genre reflects the zeitgeist of our blogging and reality show era. We have developed an appetite for the ‘true’. But I think the main reason is the relative youth of this genre. While it is discovering its own ways, it is more open to experimentation, surprise and subversion.

How has the memoir genre changed since it first became popular? What is possible with memoir writing these days?

A typical memoir used to be one person’s ‘redemptive narrative’, a quite didactic format of ‘the lessons I learned’. Nowadays the authors are more prepared to sit with existential uncertainty instead of opting for neat resolutions. The best memoirs are not ‘lessons’, but rather quests. Plus, personal stories are sometimes situated within the larger world and incorporate research, and cultural and social commentary.

What does it mean to be emotionally honest?

Emotional honesty is the ability to find distance when writing about your difficult experience; the skill for self-scrutiny; the readiness to admit your inconsistencies and paradoxes, and to argue with yourself on the page. In short, it is the best and the hardest part in memoir writing.

Join Lee for her course Introduction to Memoir on September 9, 10am-4pm, at the Centre.

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