About a year ago, a friend of mine that I deeply trust recommended I read Glennon Doyle Melton’s memoir, Carry On, Warrior. As I read, it became clear that Melton has a good voice on the page, a refreshing sense of humor, and a tender eye for story. I was especially drawn to the passage that seemingly led to the book’s title. These are my words, not hers, but Melton seemed to be suggesting that in this life we are compelled to live as warriors while at the same time needing to let go of our various forms of artificial armor. I think Melton’s right: life is fuller at that paradox. It was no surprise to me that her work had caught on with a significant audience.
I spent the last four days in Minneapolis, Minnesota, for the annual Association of Writers & Writing Programs (AWP) conference. It was my first time at the conference and in the city, but time well-spent connecting with classmates, meeting other writers, having conversations about craft, listening to readings, etc.
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?
Back in the fall of 2006, I got assigned to room with Luke Kintigh while we were both one-semester students at The American Studies Program in Washington, D.C. We became fast friends, probably first and foremost because we had the same hobby on Saturday afternoons.