Prof. Jessica Penner | OL05 | Fall 2020

Week 2: Discussion of Memoir

Here’s a quote from something you need to read by the end of the day on Monday:

While Lucy and I would later revise our personal history to say we had been friends since we met as freshmen, just for the pleasure of adding a few more years to the tally, the truth was we did not know each other at all in college. Or the truth was that I knew her and she did not know me.

Ann Patchett

Here are some questions regarding “Memoir,” which will be our focus for the next couple of weeks:

How does this quote help us define “memoir”?

Should we expect memoirs to be factual? Why or why not?

What memoirs have you read or heard about?

How do we separate a memoir from “truth”?

How can we tell the difference between them?

Briefly answer one of the questions above in the comments section below. If someone beat you to the answer, reply to their comment with your thoughts. Perhaps you agree–then add to their answer. Perhaps you disagree–tell us why!

Practice Critiquing

Sometimes people are unsure about what to say about someone’s creative writing when they’re supposed to critique it. When you’re looking at academic writing, you have concrete items to talk about: Is the argument supported by evidence? Is the evidence cited correctly? Can one easily understand what the author is trying to communicate? But creative writing is more personal. There’s a lot of wiggle room as far as what is good and what needs work.

On the Week 2 assignment post, you need to do two things: respond to Patchett and your classmates’ work (details are on the post).

With Patchett’s work, all I want is a simple: What did you like? What questions do you have for the author?

With your classmates’ work, I want you to dig a bit deeper. You only have to comment on four students’ work, and still mention what you liked, but I want you to ask more specific questions (this will help them write a revision). If you’re unsure of what to ask, here’s a list of possible questions to ask (if they aren’t already discussed):

When and how did you first receive or encounter the object?
What was your first impression of it?
Who was there?

Describe your object.
What does it look like?
What does it feel like?
What does it smell like?

Did you know it was significant from the beginning?
How did your object gain meaning?
Has its meaning changed over time?

What does the object say about you?
What event or person taught you the importance of this object?

What is the best reward of owning your object?

If you had to give it to someone, who would that be and what would you say to them?

These questions can also help you when you’re revising your own “Meet My _____.”


  1. Diana Rivera

    When it comes to memoirs and trying to understand if it’s factual or not, it’s very hard to give a straight-forward answer. By definition, a memoir is a record of events written by a person having intimate knowledge of them and based on personal observation, so will it ever be factual to anyone else but the person who wrote the memoir itself?

    • Kael Krummenauer

      I agree with what Diana wrote about whether it is truly factual or not since memoirs come from personal observation. The part where it is mentioned “Or the truth was that I knew her and she did not know me” might not be the case as one might have the impression that another person isn’t aware of our existence but in fact they are.

    • angelica hernandez

      I agree with what Diana is saying, it really depends on the person and how they experienced things. It can be factual to the person writing the memoir.

  2. Chynaworrell

    Currently, I’m reading Michelle Obama’s memoir “Becoming”. I’m about halfway through it and I love it so far. I really enjoy reading about people’s lives and experiences. I feel that there’s always a lesson to be learned when reading about someone else’s life.

    • Luzmery

      Hi Chynaworrell, I’m also reading Michelle Obama’s memoir “Becoming” and i agree with you when you say there is always a lesson to be learned when we read about someone else’s life. The way she describes her childhood feels so real and vivid to me, in my mind i can see the piano she talks about or her playing with her brother. This books really helps empower women, Michelle is the example that we can accomplish everything we set our minds to.

  3. Sarvinoz Erkinova

    The quote above provided helps us define a “memoir” in a way that it is told by the author to the audience a piece of memory from the author’s life. Just as the name states “memoir” it is a memory that has significance in the author’s life. It’s not like a life story which is usually much long but a little peice of information that has taken place in a ceratin time, place and under specific circumstances.

    • Adama Barro

      Do you think all memoir are real fact ?

  4. Adama Barro

    We should expect memoirs to be factual because a lot of people get inspire of other people memoir especially famous and influent people we look up to.
    By writing a non accurate memoir,it can misleading or even push other to do the wrong thing.

    • Jozelyn

      I agree with what you are saying. However, is it possible to tweak the truth just to add some drama or make a story/memory more exciting? For example, saying you know someone longer than you really have because that is how strong your bond is with them.

    • Jozelyn

      I agree with what you are saying. However, is it possible to tweak the truth just to add some drama or make a story/memory more exciting? For example, saying you know someone longer than you really have because that is how strong your bond is with them.

      • nickay82

        I agree with you Adama, most people expect memoirs to be factual because most of the time readers try to connect and build a bond with the author if they are relatable. I also understand what you are saying Jozeln, sometimes to create a dramatic effect, an author might exaggerate a little to add more flare to the story. Needless to say, we would expect the memoir to be 98% factual.

  5. Isabel Selmo

    With reading that quote the author wanted readers to believe she had a relationship Lucy. Even she never knew anything about her she wanted people to believe they have been friends for so long. A “memoir” could be reach, so that author’s could find a memory they like or something they wish could be a memory and could have happened in their life.

  6. Leviza Murtazayeva

    In general, I came across many different memoir writings and I always expected it to be factual and realistic. In many cases it is a story was told, and learned. It may be factual because most readers may consider the writings accurate and compare it to their everyday life. Deceptive memoirs can cause people to become obtrusive and follow the information that can be misleading if a memoir is in fact not accurate.

    • Mohammed Hashim

      I agree. Memoirs should be factual and we really don’t have any way of knowing if a memoir is factual or not unless it’s about us. Truth is any author can write a memoir and lie through it all and we wouldn’t know because the memoir itself will grab our attention to question the memoir.

  7. Bryan.carabajo

    From what I know a memoir is something written from personal knowledge or experience but it can also be written based upon special sources. In this case, I believe this quote helps us define a memoir because Patchett includes that is was their personal history meaning it was written based upon her personal experience. As of right now, I am not reading any memoirs but I will soon start reading some. On the other hand, I believe that the main difference between a memoir and the truth is that a memoir is based upon memory and I believe that memories are inaccurate. The “facts” may not actually be true but the memories will be emotionally true.

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