The Power of a Memoir

Last week, President George W.Bush, thrust himself back into the limelight with the release of his memoirs, a common practice by American presidents after leaving office.  In these memoirs, they seek to set the record straight and leave a lasting legacy, seeking to right the wrong perceptions that the public would have build about them while they still held the reigns of power.
Immaculate Ilibagiza, a genocide survivor has achieved worldwide acclaim with the stories of her life
Immaculate Ilibagiza, a genocide survivor has achieved worldwide acclaim with the stories of her life

Last week, President George W.Bush, thrust himself back into the limelight with the release of his memoirs, a common practice by American presidents after leaving office.

In these memoirs, they seek to set the record straight and leave a lasting legacy, seeking to right the wrong perceptions that the public would have build about them while they still held the reigns of power. In Decision Points, President Bush does the obvious – defend himself and some of his controversial decisions.

A memoir is a piece of autobiographical writing, usually shorter in nature than a comprehensive autobiography. The memoir, especially as it is being used in publishing today, often tries to capture certain highlights or meaningful moments in one’s past, often including a contemplation of the meaning of that event at the time of the writing of the memoir.

Writing a memoir is not for the weak hearted – you have to get hold of writing personal issues or events well aware that your family or friends might be upset by your revelations. You have to put those worries aside and write about the uncomfortable truths.

 It is not for the celebrities or politicians alone. In fact in recent years, the memoir of ‘nobody’ has become a popular genre where ordinary people who think they have extraordinary stories to tell write memoirs that become instant bestsellers.

For example, Rwanda’s Immaculate Ilibagiza, a genocide survivor has achieved worldwide acclaim with the stories of her life, especially relating to her experience during the Genocide. Her life was transformed dramatically during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi where she and seven other women spent 91 days huddled silently together in the cramped bathroom of a local pastor’s house.

Immaculate entered the bathroom a vibrant university student with a loving family and emerged to find most of her family had been brutally murdered. Her first book, Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust (2006), is an autobiographical work detailing how she survived during the Rwandan Genocide.

Dave Eggers, whose ‘Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius’ focused on the author’s struggle to raise his younger brother Christopher “Toph” Eggers following the cancer-related deaths of his parents was an enormous commercial and critical success and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction. The memoir was praised for its originality, idiosyncratic self-referencing, and for several innovative stylistic elements.

According to Inventing the Truth: The Art and Craft of Memoir, a good memoir requires two elements—one of art, the other of craft. The first element is integrity of intention.

It goes on that a memoir is how we try to make sense of who we are; who we once were, and what values and heritage shaped us. If a writer seriously embarks on that quest, readers will be nourished by the journey, bringing along many associations with quests of their own.

Also, good memoirs are a careful act of construction. We like to think that an interesting life will simply fall into place on the page.

Oprah.com has more constructive advise especially for the determined starter, in how To write your Own memoir - take any ten years of your life, reduce them to two pages, and every sentence has to be three words long—not two, not four, but three words long. You discover there’s nowhere to hide in three-word sentences.

You discover that you can’t include everything, but half of writing is deciding what to leave out. Learning what to leave out is not the same thing as putting in only what’s important.

The manner, in which memoirs are fast being churned out from all parts of the world make this the age of memoir. Everyone has a story to tell, and everyone is telling it and so do you. A memoir is an act of courage to dare to write the truths you hold, to carve a space in the vast realms of time and dive in, using only words as ballast, to rediscover oneself as you dwell on truth, memory, and story.

It can be the healing from a haunted past or the power that breaks away the chains that finally usher you into freedom from your past.

kelviod@yahoo.com

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