Two by Dani Shapiro

Memoir is the second unit of my 300-level CNF course–the one we spend the most time in–and “A Memoir is Not a Status Update” is one of the piece I’ve assigned on that first day because Shapiro does such a great job of cutting through some of the misconceptions that students new to nonfiction might have.

For instance:

“As I often tell my writing students, just because it happened doesn’t make it interesting.”


“In order to write a memoir, I’ve sat still inside the swirling vortex of my own complicated history like a piece of old driftwood, battered by the sea.”

As Shapiro acknowledges, we live in the age of sharing–sometimes over-sharing–and she does a better job of laying out a simple notion quickly: the ways we engage with social media are not the same work of memoir.

Other times I’ve assigned “Dear Disillusioned Reader Who Contacted Me on Facebook” instead. In this, Shapiro further covers how we write memoir–and how it differs from what people might expect–and I prefer this piece because it’s a bit longer, the nuances greater. But at the start of my memoir unit, the reading load is heavy, so what I assign varies a bit.

In this piece, Shapiro writes the lines that I most often quote in class when working with students on the scope of their pieces:

“The memoirist looks through a single window in a house full of windows. After all, we can’t look out of all the windows at once, can we?  We choose a view. We pick a story to tell.”

Ain’t it the truth?


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