Letter: More About Memoir Writing
To the Editor:
Thank you for last Sunday’s article on the popularity of memoirs in which my class at Lebanon College was featured (“Everyone Has a Story, Memoirists Prove,” June 16). It is wonderful to see the various outlets for memoir writing and that our population is so well served.
I want to clarify one point. A quote in the article reads: “But Heidi Fishman, of Norwich, signed up for a much more daunting literary undertaking, one that melds memoir with creative nonfiction in what Gifford might categorize as a ‘paramemoir.’” I want to clarify that “paramemoir” is a term coined by Dartmouth College professor Irene Kacandes to describe her book Daddy’s War: Greek American Stories. I believe Kacandes derived the term from the Greek word “para” meaning “beyond” to indicate going beyond the traditional form and scope of memoir. Specifically, she narrates and analyzes the transmission of certain traumatic events of a particular family member to demonstrate how they become part of collective family memory.
When I was talking to Diane Taylor, the writer of the article, I was not classifying Fishman’s book as a paramemoir, but rather comparing my student’s work to Kacandes’ in terms of subject matter. Both deal with narrative accounts of a parent’s personal experience in the Holocaust. Both are also nontraditional in the sense that one assumes in a typical memoir that the author is the book’s main subject. In both books, the underlying experience belonged to the author’s parent, although Kacandes also addresses the effects on the memory of her greater family. Fishman’s work, while based on historical research, delves into the realm of creative nonfiction through imagined conversations between her mother as a young girl and a doll her mother remarkably received as gift while living in one of the camps. I do not want to create the impression that I have claimed as my own a term that Kacandes’ invented or to have created any confusion in its actual definition.
Thank you for the opportunity to explain and for your coverage of memoir writing.
Kim J. Gifford