Memoirs on the Go and the Blurring of the Personal and Public

I came across an interesting interview last week with Cynthia Franklin, author of Academic Lives: Memoir, Cultural Theory and the University Today. academiclives.jpg I was attracted to the interview by Scott Jaschik because I sometimes think about and consider writing about my all-too-short academic life as a college instructor.

But the part of the interview that grabbed me the most was this response by Franklin:

I argue that blogs are serving as a kind of “memoir-on-the-go,” one that allows for dialogue and also a large readership. … I believe the permeability between memoirs and blogging — and also practices such as “facebooking” — will, if anything, feed the memoir phenomenon: these sites are further popularizing autobiography; increasingly eroding the boundaries between the personal and the public; and extending the practices of personal narrative by combining it with political commentary and analysis. Rather than replace the memoir market or the desire to write autobiographically, then, I think the habitual public sharing of private life — and the increased blurring between the personal and the public, the political, and the professional — will, if anything, stimulate memoir writing and probably also influence its shape. An example: I have a friend who blogs, and then links his blogging to his Facebook site. The blogs, accounts of concerts he has attended, combine personal narrative, analysis of the dynamics of race and class and region in the U.S., and commentary on music. He is amassing a significant body of writing that is losing its extracurricular feel, and his readers have started petitioning him in their comments to write a memoir based on these writings.

jared-and-olives.jpg Having suggested earlier in the interview that memoirs are more popular them ever, Franklin makes two important points here:

  1. The storytelling that many people do in blogs in indeed a sort of a memoir in progress, certainly rough notes that could become a memoir. I immediately thought of a blogger, Jared (pictured at left), who wrote to me recently about his blog (Moon Over Martinborough): “I’m now getting 1,800 pageviews a month, and I’ve got 80 fans on Facebook and 273 followers on Twitter. Not bad for a blog that’s only 5 months old and is mostly about chickens and olives!” The blog is pure storytelling about “an expat American city boy lands on 20 acres and an olive grove in New Zealand.” Jared could easily turn the blog into a fascinating memoir. The blog as memoir-on-the-go also has the advantage of offering the memoirist feedback and support.
  2. The “storytelling” folks do in social-media venues is also memoir fodder. People who probably had not the slightest notion of ever writing a memoir are probably more inclined to do so because they have become more comfortable with publicly telling their stories. Now, I’ve been chewing on this idea of social-media as storytelling for along time now and asking the opinions of many others. Perhaps the best we can say about social-media storytelling is that it is a crude, fragmented, incomplete sort of storytelling; yet there is much storytelling in social media that transcends that characterization and is truly memoir-worthy. And, as Jared’s experience shows, social-media and blogging also cross-pollinate each other.

I for one am heartened by these cultural influences that turn more of us into storytellers.

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A Storied Career

A Storied Career explores intersections/synthesis among various forms of
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Dr. Kathy Hansen

Kathy Hansen, PhD, is a leading proponent of deploying storytelling for career advancement. She is an author and instructor, in addition to being a career guru. More...

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