Handling the Truth: On the Writing of Memoir

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Release Date: 
August 6, 2013
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Writing a book, any book, is a journey. Writing a memoir holds a specific obligation, requiring the author to discover and tell the truth, whether through narrative, introspection, or a journalistic style.

While both fiction and nonfiction sell best with quality writing and a good story to tell, all writing can benefit from authenticity and a search for meaning. Here in Handling the Truth: On the Writing of Memoir Beth Kephart shares the bounty of wisdom accrued after writing and publishing five memoirs, and through her work teaching memoir writing at University of Pennsylvania.

The genre may be saturated, but good memoirs stand above the crowd, and Handling the Truth is filled with examples of the best from new writers to old pros who know how to share their story and make readers care about the elements of a good story as well as the careful scrutiny of life.

Learning to write a powerful memoir requires studying the masters, finding your form, and getting ready to be vulnerable. How else can you write with honesty and tell the truth? If you’re ready to “get it right, when so many get it wrong, you’ll learn to write and write until you find your true voice.” Ms. Kephart helps you along the way by explaining what memoir is not, and helps you understand what readers gain by reading good literature.

Beyond its appeal to eager memoir writers seeking a teacher by their side, Ms. Kephart’s book allows writing teachers to create custom classroom reading for students by following the generous reading list and memoir samples in the book’s Appendix.

Throughout readers are encouraged to be active writers, to write about what is happening now in order to learn to write about yesterday.

On journal keeping, Ms. Kephart notes: “It tells us something about ourselves, records the details of our living, puts dialogue somewhere safe so that we can retrieve it later, talks back to us about us.” This is the level at which she reaches the reader; through simple hints at behaviors and habits that can open up our writing.

Readers can literally work their way through the book as she urges writing from memory to awaken your ability to learn and tell your own story. Unlike a "how-to” or “how I did it” discussion, Ms. Kephart's book invites the reader to read the work of others and get moving as you learn to handle the truth.

“If all your memoir does is deliver story—no sediments, no tidewater, no ambiguity—readers have no reason to return. If you cannot embrace the messy tug of yourself, the inescapable contradictions, the ugly and the lovely, then you are not ready yet. If you can’t make room for us, then please don’t expect us to start making room for you.”