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Book Review:
Memoir Writing

Living to Tell the Tale:
A Guide to Writing Memoir
Jane Taylor McDonnell
St. Martin's Press
US $12.95, Canada $17.99
ISBN 0-14-026-530-9

Memoirs and other personal narratives have been in vogue over the past few years, for several good reasons:

Creative expression. The memoir genre provides an opprtunity to write highly personal stories that draw on their own experiences.

Family history. Memoir is a modern-day (and more indelible) counterpart to the oral storytelling tradition.

Personal therapy. For some writers, the "crisis memoir" is a "a second chance at life."

In Living To Tell The Tale, Jane Taylor McDonnell emphasizes what she calls "witness narratives: memoirs of survival" (which also happens to be the title of her writing course at Carleton College).
"Although we can never go back in time to change the past," she says, "we can re-experience, interpret, and make peace with our past lives. When we write a personal narrative we find new meanings and, at the same time, we discover connections with our former selves."

For those who aspire to publication, she adds:

"In the last ten years there have been published hundreds of books which might be called crisis narratives or memoirs of survival--stories of illness, abuse, emigration, cultural dislocations of all sorts."

Getting started

One of the biggest challenges in writing a memoir, according to Ms. McDonnell, is learning to recognize and silence the "inner censors" that stand in the way of truth. She provides an exercise to help writers listen to (and silence) their negative inner voices--the first step in writing an honest and meaningful personal narrative.

Keeping it going

Continued on page 2

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