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Creative Nonfiction, issue 55: The Memoir Issue (spring 2015)

Full disclosure: I am a fan of the folks over at Creative Nonfiction. I’ve taken one of their classes (and think I’ll do another this winter), and I attended their conference in Pittsburgh last month (also excellent!). This post is about the magazine, which comes out quarterly. Summer 2015 is “The Memoir Issue,” fatter than usual at just over 100 pages, and filled with memoir stories and essays about the genre. I read it from cover to cover, but wanted to share a few of my favorite pieces.

cnf memoirLee Gutkind’s “From the Editor” column asks, “What’s the (Personal) Story?” It’s brief, but a fine backdrop to creative nonfiction and the rise of the memoir. If you ever get a chance to hear Lee speak, expect to be entertained; I enjoyed his energy at the conference, where he helped us all wake up first thing in the morning with his extraordinary energy and enthusiasm. Next, Robert Atwan contributes an essay called “Of Memory and Memoir,” in which he argues that we’d benefit from a better understanding of how memory works (and doesn’t work), in a world where the memoir is so popular and ubiquitous. I think this is an interesting challenge; memoir is often, and appropriately I think, concerned with the line between truth and perspective, and the failure to remember perfectly. I don’t know if we can expect to solve the mystery of our imperfect memories, but Atwan does well to consider the problem.

And then there are the memoir essays themselves, of which I had a few favorites. “Do No Harm” by Kelly Fig Smith won the magazine’s prize, and naturally makes my list. She tells the story of a terrible tragedy that hits her family, and the hospital experience that came with it; it’s about perspective and compassion, I think. “Steps” by Scott Loring Sanders recounts the hike shared by a newly sober father, a young son, and their two dogs; it’s about mistakes and rehabilitation. Gina Warren’s “Girl on Fire” observes the difficulties of caregiving. The final essay, “The Grief Scale,” is by Suzanne Roberts, who wrote Almost Somewhere, a book I rated 6 small but important steps. This essay is better, I think. I like how she circles back at the end to reference the story she thought she was writing, was trying to write; but what we are treated to is instead the story that flows out of her, about being griped at on an airplane, and losing or fearing to lose our loved ones. I found it very effective.

Finally, “The Perils of Perfect Memory” by Daphne Strassmann questions our new reliance on social media and its effects on memory and memoir. Were we better off keeping our memories to ourselves, letting them brew and cure inside us before releasing them on the world? And in “Pushing the Boundaries,” Rolf Potts offers a different format, of found texts assembled in a piece he calls “Age, Formative,” which is powerfully disturbing.

These are just a few of the pieces I found most intriguing; the whole issue is definitely worth taking in. You can view parts of it or buy it here.

One Response

  1. […] You can read my review of the previous issue here. […]

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