Celebrate This Week: Memoirs!

celebrate link up

Celebrate with Ruth Ayres @ ruth ayres writes  …. because, we need to celebrate moments in our lives every chance we get!

We celebrated our memoirs in the days before Winter Break with treats, smiles, laughter, and words of sympathy. As always, I was moved by my students’ willingness to be open and honest with themselves, their lives, and with their classmates.

Everything I know about teaching memoir I learned from Katherine Bomer’s book, Writing A Life.  Year after year, I return to Katherine’s wisdom, and feel reinvigorated and inspired to teach a genre that causes my kids to groan when I first launch our unit: Again?! We spent SO long on this last year!  Why?!  But, thanks in large part to what I learned through reading and re-reading Writing A Life, my students’ reluctance soon gives way to something else – a willingness to give the genre another shot…their best shot.

I think we as teachers often create ‘lesson boxes’ for our students by confining the purpose of memoir to “write about a time you learned about lesson”.  Memoir is so much more!  Here’s  Katherine Bomer’s vision, instead:

Memoir provides a means to define the “I” the way I want to…For young people, the process of memoir writing can be a way not only to discover who they are but also to learn how to reflect – to learn that one can place an image, a remembered conversation, or an event under a microscope, study it, and have things to say about it.  In the act of scrutinizing, they might also discover that memory is a reconstruction of an event…Children may also come to feel that they could write a hundred memoirs and each time remember or reconstruct a new and different self, each time with a different turning point in their life or different revelations about the same turning point.  This fluid nature of memory may frustrate the beginning memoirist, but what freedom we have not to be trapped inside one way of being!

We went in quest of revelations and reconstructions in our memoir unit, and put aside the issue of “lesson learned”.  Once again, my kids came through, even though it was not easy.  Every conference seemed to center around how to shift the lens, how to reflect in a new way.  Bit by bit, we got there, from our first drafts:

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to our revisions:

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which were also guided by Katherine Bomer’s liberating advice:

When you revise memoir, you  become the author of your life.  How dare you change the sequence, the names, the dialogue, the true facts of your life? Well, you do dare because you are revising to make your life mean what you want it to mean.

Finally, we celebrated and complimented each other on our efforts:


So, a week late, I celebrate memoir and what my kids were able to rediscover about themselves in writing theirs…once again.



5 thoughts on “Celebrate This Week: Memoirs!

  1. It must have been a special time to write memoirs after they wrote earlier about the stories they collected over Thanksgiving. This time it was their own “memories” they might someday tell when they grow up.

  2. Memoir is a difficult study for young and old. Maybe because we think we have to hold “true” to what happened. Going back and revisiting moments to define ourselves is brilliant. You are so wise to take your students on the journey, even when they resisted. Bomer’s words are perfection and inspirational! You guided your Smithlings beautifully through this very important journey. Thank you for celebrating it!

  3. Becoming the authors of their lives is so important, Tara. Voice matters and you gave your students the opportunity to let their voice soar. Have a great beginning to an exciting year.

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