Writers On Writing / Memoir as a journey into memory: with Barbara Brooks

We interviewed esteemed memoirist and mentor Barbara Brooks ahead of her multi-week course at Writing NSW, Memoir and Memories.

What does memory mean to the memoir writer?

Memoir is about bringing the writer’s imagination to bear on the events of a life to shape the story. Vivien Gornick said all good writing is alive on the page and the reader feels the writer is on a journey. Memoir is the writer’s journey into memory; it’s about telling an authentic story, it’s about discovering what you want to say. Like other forms of life writing, memoir explores the past to reflect on identity in the present. 

You are a founding member of the Memoir Club Sydney. Why did you create this space, and how does it benefit authors?

The Memoir Club Sydney was a communal space for writers and readers to meet and converse about all things to do with reading and writing memoir. It was about community; it was a way to have those important conversations between published writers, beginning writers and readers. Beth Yahp was the originator and asked me to join her; our committee were writers and students of writing. We were interested in all kinds of life stories and in different ways of telling them. Guest writers included Fiona Wright, Rosie Scott, Ross Gibson, Patti Miller, Beth Spencer, Moya Costello and Beth Yahp. We also held readings, masterclasses and discussions about ‘memoir classics’. Our last session was in 2016.

What are the unique challenges posed by memoir writing?

One of the challenges we’ll explore in this class is that as a memoir writer, you are exploring and presenting the self. When you write memoir, you create yourself as a character. You are an actor in the story you tell as well as the narrator.

Barbara Brooks has published short memoir, essays and fiction, and an acclaimed biography, Eleanor Dark: A writer’s life. Her essays and stories have been published in Europe, Asia and the US as well as Australia. She is a highly regarded teacher of writing and has taught at a number of universities, including teaching non-fiction writing and life writing at the University of Technology Sydney. A founding member of the committee of the Memoir Club Sydney, she has been a reviewer, editor and mentor, and received many grants and fellowships.

Memoir and Memories will take place over 5 Sunday afternoons at Writing NSW, from 2 June to 7 July. Book your spot here >

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