Every person has a story that only they can tell. Memoirs are a way for readers to experience another person’s perspective on the world through real accounts of another person’s journey, the struggles they’ve overcome and the insights they’ve gained. Masters of memoir let their unique voice shine through, often with heartbreaking or hilarious results.
Memoirist Louise Krug teaches creative nonfiction and memoir at Washburn University in Topeka. Krug says it’s the truth of memoir that draws her in.
“I believe in the power of the real — there is something that truth does to me as a reader that is special, it has a gravitas that I can’t forget. I like the insights that the writer makes about him or herself, and how they so often apply to humanity as a whole.”
Krug notes that one of the reasons memoir has grown so much as a genre is that people are much less private than they used to be. We want to hear each other’s stories.
“In a different time, it would be uncouth to share your deepest insecurities and dirty laundry, but now we update our lives on the Internet all day long. A lot of those walls between us have come down, and I think that’s more of a good thing than bad. It’s hugely comforting to know that you’re not alone in whatever you’re going through.”
Louise Krug is an English professor at Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas. She has written two memoirs about her 2005 brain surgeries, Louise: Amended (2012) and Tilted: The Post Brain-Surgery Journals (2016).
Publishers Weekly named Louise: Amended one of the best nonfiction books of 2012, calling it “an immediate, unsparing, and beautifully rendered account of loss and recovery.” Author Mary Karr also called it “a page-turner in which a person’s very soul deepens before your eyes.”
Read on for an original interview with Louise, and click on the link to check out her top nonfiction and memoir picks at your library.
Why do you read memoir and essays? What do you enjoy about them?
I believe in the power of the real – there is something that truth does to me as a reader that is special, it has a gravitas that I can’t forget. I like the insights that the writer makes about him or herself, and how they so often apply to humanity as a whole. For example, I’m teaching the essay “Difference Maker” by Meghan Daum tomorrow and at first, the essay seems to be a sort of defense on why she doesn’t want to have children, but by the end, it’s about how most of us live life inside a little bubble and don’t realize how little our explanations matter to anybody else.
Why do you think memoir and essay have grown in popularity with readers? Do you foresee that trend continuing?
Maybe it has something to do with propriety and privacy – in a different time, it would be uncouth to share your deepest insecurities and dirty laundry, but now we update our lives on the internet all day long. A lot of those walls between us have come down, and I think that’s more of a good thing than bad. It’s hugely comforting to know that you’re not alone in whatever you’re going through.
I know that whenever I read anything about a woman who have body image issues because of a disability (something that I write about a lot), I have an almost trigger-like reaction where I burst into tears. But it’s also greatly healing to find that connection with someone who is probably a total stranger. People need that connection in their lives.
Who are some of your favorite essay and memoir writers? Whose work would you recommend to writers who aspire to write memoir? I have so many favorites: Jo Ann Beard, Haven Kimmel, Cheryl Strayed, David Sedaris, Rick Bragg, Anne Lamott, Tobias Wolff, Maya Angelou, Mary Karr, Ann Patchett, Sarah Manguso, Dani Shapiro, bell hooks, Lynda Barry, Alison Bechdel, for starters. They all dig deep and aren’t scared.