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Sightings from the Porch 

April 14, 2018

On Canopic Publishing’s Concept of “Literary Memoir”

Sometimes in casual discussions as a publisher I find that people (those who have not “studied” writing as such, but have a story to tell) are confused about the distinction between biography and autobiography. Because of the prefix “auto,” that one’s usually easy to explain, but the difference between autobiography and memoir is trickier. I think Paulette Alden does a pretty good job in her blog article, “What Exactly is a Literary Memoir,” but she might be offering more than she can deliver when she says “exactly.” There are other good discussions worth seeking out.

To further murky the waters, Canopic Publishing specifies its interest in “literary memoirs.” Here Alden offers some insight: A literary memoir “originates in memory, in personal experience. And the contract with the reader is that you’re telling the truth as you know it and have discovered it and believe it to be true. Usually takes a portion of a life; childhood, for example, or deals with a specific theme or experience – and disregards the rest of the life.”

To this I would add that a “literary memoir,” as Canopic defines it, also demonstrates an awareness of prose style; the writing itself extends artistically beyond the parameters of the story being told. And, to again quote Alden, “You’re not just remembering; you’re discovering something.”

If you have a concrete agenda before you start writing – like intending to show how and why your ex-partner is the real reason you drove your car into a wall – then your story is not likely to fall into the category of “literary memoir,” at least not in the eyes and ears of Canopic Publishing. However, that question will ultimately be answered in the writing. Ultimately, as editors, we can only discuss the writing; ideas about writing are insubstantial.

For Canopic Publishing, “literary memoir” involves discovery and prose style. That is the start. The end is up to the artist and the audience.