The Ethics of Memoir Writing

In a publishing world that includes the likes of Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code and James Frey’s A Million Little Pieces, facts, speculation, and imagination can be so blended into one book, which causes more than a little confusion and controversy. Nowhere is that concern more necessary or weighty than in the memoir genre. One looks for memoir in the nonfiction section of bookstores and libraries, but as Thomas Larson points out The Memoir and the Memoirist, memoir is not nonfiction in the same sense that autobiography is. Dialogue has to be recreated from memory, and places and characters need dramatization in order to satisfy the reader. To borrow from Vivian Gornick’s The Situation and the Story, memoir is “composed,” rather than an arbitrary collection of facts thrown together chronologically. This blend of dramatized nonfiction is messy work for both writer and reader. Which personas are trustworthy ones?

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