Telling the Truth About One's Life: Memoir Controversies

What would a memoir blog be without a category for memoir controversy? Can you trust the label of memoir when it appears on a book?  Today’s writers, editors, and their lawyer’s are continuing to ask Pontius Pilate’s question, “What is truth?”

Most readers, myself included, expect that the basic facts reported in memoir correlate to observable reality.  Otherwise, we have a novel by another name.

With the help of blogger Gutsy Writer I discovered this Writing Your Life into Story website, one place that tells one of last year’s publishing scandals–the story of Margaret Jones, AKA Selzer, who claimed to be part white, part native American and pulled into the gangs of South LA.  Problem with the story?  Margaret grew up in Sherman Oaks and went to a private school.  Like James Frey, Selzer fictionalized much or most of the story but called it memoir. In an interesting twist, she was “outed” by her sister before the book hit the stores.

I plan to read Carol Bly’s The Passionate Accurate Story, recommended by Barbara Abercrombie, of the Writing Your Life Into Story blog cited above.

I will also catalogue controversies as they pop up on the scene.  By now, editors and publishers must be careful to ask for documentation for memoir.

But the question remains, what does it say about our culture, and about the publishing industry that writers make up stories worse than their own and then claim them to be true?  It used to be that people lied to inflate their resumes, and in business they are still doing so.  When novels ruled the publishing world, we did not have this problem.  Memoirs (note the s) were still written by ex-presidents and CEOs, and very few people without huge name recognition expected to publish the stories of their lives.

Is the issue as simple as the rush to a trend (everyone trying to outdo Frank McCourt of Angela’s Ashes for misery?). Or is something even deeper at work in our collective psyches?

What do you think?

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About Shirley Hershey Showalter

Author of memoir Blush: A Mennonite Girl Meets a Glittering World. Blogging about Magical Memoir Moments and Jubilación -- vocation in the second half of life.
This entry was posted in Memoir Controversies and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Telling the Truth About One's Life: Memoir Controversies

  1. marycoxpace says:

    The truth. Transparency. Perspective. Controversies rise. Some reveal facts, some don't. I'm blogging my memoirs. It's a challenge writing from multiple time periods, as I just turned 60. I was hospitalized a lot during my childhood–in the 50's. My sense of reality was different then. Once I was not permitted to see my folks for several months, because the hospital thought it was easier on the children. Much different now 🙂 Controversial, indeed. I'm so glad I found your blog. I get Linda Joy Myers' newsletter. Powerful! Will return to read her interview.

  2. shirleyhs says:

    Hi, Mary,Thanks for visiting this space and I'm glad to know you found it helpful. How lonely you must have been in a hospital, separated from your family. Best wishes on writing your powerful story.

  3. marycoxpace says:

    Thanks so much for your response. Please come by my blog to visit me. I'll be back.Blessings,Mary

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