Rhetoric and Composition/Memoirs

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Memoirs are a form of first-person autobiographical writing that record a writer's reaction to important events in his or her life. Influential people, such as former U. S. Presidents Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan, often write lengthy memoirs depicting the many critical events of their lives and careers. But every writer has experienced a few critical events that will be of interest to people who do not know them.

The first assignment asks you to write from your memory, recapturing the experience of reading a special book from your childhood or adolescence. It is a chance to recapture something significant from your past, to explore its importance, and to reconstruct it in writing for others to appreciate.

Certain books we’ve read live in our memories. When we first read these books or when they were read to us, they spoke to us in some important way. They may still speak to us. Find a book that played an important role in our life when you were a child or an adolescent. Why was it important? What was it like to read this book? Did you read it on your own or did someone read it to you? If someone read it to you, who was it, and what was the experience like? Is there a connection between this book and learning to read on your own?

Re-read the book. (If it is long, like Little Women, for example, it is all right to skim it, although you may find yourself re-reading certain parts.) In your essay, use the book as a springboard for your writing by focusing on an insight (a discovery) you have made about the book. Be sure to cite passages and tell the effect they had on you.

As you shape your drafts, give attention to organization, the way you build your story. Decide what the reader needs to know in the beginning, and think about the order in which things happened and how much to tell the reader at each point. Give attention also to the pictures you create: try to reconstruct key moments by showing what happened rather than merely telling that it happened. Dialogue and scene descriptions often help to make those moments come alive. Finally, give careful thought to the story’s theme or controlling idea.