Doing Memoir

In December 2002 I went to an information session for the New School’s graduate creative writing program. I took some notes during the session, notes that I recently rediscovered while trying to purge old files. The best thing I jotted down was this: a question asked by a fellow participant—a young woman, if I remember correctly: “If we want to do memoir and autobiography, would that be fiction or nonfiction?”

I don’t remember the answer; I didn’t write it down in my notes. I think I know what the answer would have been, should have been—but then, you know, these days—the years since then, anyway—who knows?

Who knows? Maybe she had the savvy to skip the MFA step altogether and head straight for the office of an agent with, say, malleable ethics; an agent willing to help her on her path to a fictional-memoir success story.

A Completely Different State Solution

I can remember driving with my late father through western Pennsylvania. He was struck by the amount of land without a human figure in it. So much space! After a long silence, in a traveler’s trance resembling the chessboard trance, he said, ‘Ah, how many Jews might have been settled here! Room enough for everybody.’

—Saul Bellow, The Bellarosa Connection (p. 79 in the 1989 Penguin paperback ed.) (Thanks, Ted!)