What is a memoir?

A memoir (from French: mémoire: memoria, meaning memory or reminiscence) is a collection of memories that an individual writes about moments or events, both public or private, that took place in the subject’s life.[1][2] The assertions made in the work are understood to be factual. A biography or autobiography tells the story “of a life”, while a memoir often tells “a story from a life”, such as touchstone events and turning points from the author’s life.

So a memoir should describe either:

  • A specific period of your life (always with a theme—for example a memoir of divorce, like Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Eat, Pray, Love” or Elizabeth Wurtzel’s “Prozac Nation, a memoir detailing her mental illness in her late teens and early 20s)
  • Or, alternatively, tell the story that is spread out over longer period but that remains within the confinement of a specific theme. An example would be “The Memoirs of the Addicted Brain” by Marc Lewis, which talks about the biology of the brain and how various substances affected the author over the period of years—starting with his teenage years and ending in his adulthood when he got sober.

My memoir Drunk Mom is a memoir with a specific subject matter: Early motherhood within the context of relapse—it is usually referred to as “addiction memoir.” In my memoir I described a short period of time from the time of his birth till shortly after his first birthday when I got sober.

(Photo by Michael D Beckwith on Unsplash)


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