Wednesday, October 17, 2012
As part of my Genre Expert Presentation I have been researching my biography genre. I felt that the best place to start was with Tompkins (2012). “Writers use the biography genre to tell stories about their lives or other people’s lives” (Tompkins, 2012, p. 230). The biography genre can be separated into four types of life stories, personal narrative, memoir, autobiography, and biography. Some elements of the biography genre are that the writer provides true accounts of people’s lives. Information is presented accurately, “so that readers can gain insight into their subjects personalities” (p. 230). For each of these four categories of biography, however, the elements and characteristics change. In my opinion the most interesting of these biographies is memoir.
According to Tompkins (2012), memoirs include powerful images, vivid details, and link specific events in one’s life with a unifying theme (pp. 232-233). Memoirs are not just a retelling, but rather an individuals interpretation of their own life experiences, that is what makes memoir so interesting to me. While biographies are usually associated with the cold hard facts, memoirs can blur the line between fact and fiction. I like to call this blurring of the lines “story truth” verse “happening truth.” I discussed this notion in one of my classes here at Nazareth College, African American Autobiography. My class discussed that this story truth is the truth with which the author is able to use his life events to provide an overall message. As Maya Angelou said, “There’s a world of difference between truth and facts. Facts can obscure the truth.” I know for myself when I think about memories or when I tell a story I over exaggerate, embellish (imagine that!). Overtime, the story no longer takes the form of what ACTUALLY happened, but rather takes on this new life of how it is told. This happens for many stories and peoples. Does it make those stories any less true? Does it take away from what they really are trying to say? In my opinion no, they become story truth rather than happening truth.
Because oneself writes autobiography and memoir, there is also the notion that we all interpret experiences differently. Therefore, how I view an event in my life may be much different than how someone else who was part of that same event perceived it. This perception is what also makes memoir so intriguing to me. It is how we remember (memoir-memory).
Just as with any other student-writing, I think it’s important that when we transfer this genre to my classroom I understand that rather than fact-checking I want my students message to be strong. While I do understand, however, that facts are part of the biography genre, they give it credibility, I must also understand that it is the overall message of my student’s pieces that I want to emphasize. Therefore, if they say two dogs chased them and it was really one, or their older brother that they have only weighs 100 pounds when they say 200, I think I’ll let it slide and chalk it up to “story truth.” This notion of “story truth,” however, must be taken into careful consideration in my classroom because one does not want to confuse the personal narrative form of biography with that of a memoir.
Tompkins (2012) characterizes the personal narrative with, “focuses on one experience, written in the first person I, organized into the beginning, middle, and end, includes dialogue and rich sensory details, explains how the event has affect the writer” (p. 230). In my opinion many of these elements are congruent with a memoir. From my understanding, however, the main difference between the two writings is that with a memoir the writer has now had time to reflect and think about this experience and what it means and where it is situated in regards to the rest of their life-experiences. Therefore, I feel that with a personal narrative, while it should have a plot as Tompkins (2012) notes, a beginning, middle, and end, and while it does detail how it affected the author, the affects may only be in the context of that moment rather than how it has impacted their entire life. Hopefully this is something I can clarify as I dig deeper into my research on my Genre Expert Presentation.