MFA candidates at Vermont College of Fine Arts are required to write a critical thesis during the third semester of study. At first I said that I wanted to write about celebrity memoir, the critically maligned but lucrative arm of the memoir genre. In short, I wanted to know if any were good, and I wanted to know if the good ones had been ghostwritten. Obviously I was all pre-judgy.
But then I ran across writer Robin Hemley’s blog post about his recently published book Do-Over! Hemley called the book an immersion memoir, stating “To me, in ‘Immersion Memoir,’ a writer creates a kind of framework to actively engage in experience and memory.” Since that sounded like exactly what I was doing at the time—obsessively, even desperately, creating a framework of research and memory recovery therapy in order to actively seek out my own long-lost memory—I quickly attached myself and my work to the term. At the time, however, no clear definition of immersion memoir existed. My critical thesis was born when I decided that I would craft one.
The Writer’s Chronicle, magazine of the Association of Writers and Writing Programs, just published my article based on my thesis. I AM SO EXCITED ABOUT THIS. It’s a huge honor. I proudly showed my family at a breakfast of leftover pie the morning after Thanksgiving. A big moment in my writing life. Hemley is publishing a book on immersion writing next year, and he includes immersion memoir. I am, it probably goes without saying, eager to read it!
What a wonderful note. Thank you! And what fascinating work you do. I’ve written two personal essays that rely on my ancestral history to gain more understanding of my life, especially of my unremembered childhood. It makes perfect sense, especially now as I’m reading about your work, that writers who already reach back to childhood can simply reach back a little (or a lot) farther to mine memories, material, and meaning. It’s exciting to consider the results when we blend biography of those who came before and autobiography, looking for all the things we writers look for: revelation, resolution, peace, and more.
I so appreciate you visiting and leaving a note!
All my very best.
I just finished reading your excellent article in Writer’s Chronicle about immersion memoir. It struck a familiar chord with me. I’m a professional genealogist who writes, teaches, and mentors others who are writing their family histories. We immerse ourselves in the past, sometimes the distant past, to not only record the stories of our ancestors’ lives, but to better understand ourselves.
You mentioned Ian Frazier’s Family, but of course, there are many additional immersion family history memoirs (another sub-genre?) that come to mind: Edward Ball’s Slaves in the Family, Mary Logue’s Halfway Home: A Granddaughter’s Biography, Kem Luther’s Cottonwood Roots, Helen Epstein’s Where She Came From: A Daughter’s Search for Her Mother, to name a few. In some cases, the authors revisit where their ancestors lived for the immersion experience, but more frequently, it is in the historical records and the social history context that we must immerse ourselves to find the experience.
Thanks again for a great article. I’ll certainly be recommending your article my students and clients. I think they will also find it enlightening.
Sharon DeBartolo Carmack
Certified Genealogist and author of You Can Write Your Family History
Congratulations on the article, Suzanne. I came here looking for it after Hemley posted about it on FB. I’ll to scrounge my Department for the latest copy of the Chronicle—they tend to disappear, but it sounds like I need a copy!
Thanks so much for stopping by and leaving a comment, Christin! The article was gratifying to write, since I felt like Robin’s phrase had given me, at long last, a framework to understand what I was trying to accomplish in writing my book. And the three books I studied turned out to be rich and helpful mentor texts!
This wonderful! I sent a copy to a client who is writing a memoir. The concept of the 2 voices, of innocence and experience, is fascinating and right on point with what he is writing/how he is writing.
Congratulations on this tremendous honor. Can we say we knew you when? 🙂
The moment I read Sue William Silverman’s explanation of the two voices, I saw narrative in a new light. It’s an incredibly useful model! Thanks for reading the article and for sharing. It means the world!
Can’t wait to read it, Suzanne! Big congrats. 🙂
Thank you so so much, Lynn!
This is fabulous news and a wonderful article!!!!