The Meaning of Memoir
Tuesday March 21, 2017
The functions of memoir are multifarious; from preservation to commemoration, investigation to discovery. Memoirists Peter Selgin (The Inventors), Sheila Kohler (Once We Were Sisters), and Dawn Raffel (The Secret Life of Objects) explored the purposes of memoir writing—both for author and reader—and how one transforms personal memories into literature.
Peter Selgin is the author of Drowning Lessons, winner of the Flannery O’Connor Award for Fiction, a novel, two books on fiction writing, and several children’s books. Confessions of a Left-Handed Man, his memoir-in-essays, was short-listed for the William Saroyan International Prize. His novel, The Water Master, won the Wisdom/Faulkner Society Prize for Best Novel. His essays have won many awards and honors, including six citations and two selections for the Best American anthologies, in which the title essay of his collection appears. Selgin’s drama, A God in the House, based on Dr. Kevorkian and his suicide machine, was staged at the Eugene O’Neill National Playwright’s Conference in 1991. Other plays of his have won the Charlotte Repertory New Play Festival Competition, the Mill Mountain New Plays Competition, and the Stage 3 Theater Festival of New Plays. His paintings have been featured in The New Yorker, Gourmet, Outside, Forbes, and The Wall Street Journal, and exhibited nationally. Selgin is the prose editor of Alimentum: The Literature of Food, and nonfiction editor and art director of Arts & Letters. He is Assistant Professor of English at Georgia College and an associate faculty member of Antioch University’s Creative Writing MFA program in Los Angeles.
Sheila Kohler was born in Johannesburg, South Africa. She is the author of fourteen works of fiction including the novels Dreaming for Freud, Becoming Jane Eyre and Cracks, which was nominated for the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award and made into a film starring Eva Green. Her work has been featured in the New York Times and O Magazine and included in The Best American Short Stories. She has twice won an O'Henry Prize, as well as an Open Fiction Award, a Willa Cather Prize and a Smart Family Foundation Prize. She teaches at Princeton University and lives in New York City.
Dawn Raffel is an award winning author and editor. Her illustrated memoir, The Secret Life of Objects, was a Wall Street Journal bestseller. Previous books include a critically acclaimed novel, Carrying the Body, and two story collections— Further Adventures in the Restless Universe and In the Year of Long Division.
Her stories have appeared in O, The Oprah Magazine, BOMB, Conjunctions, Black Book, Fence, Open City, The Mississippi Review Prize Anthology, The Anchor Book of New American Short Stories, Arts & Letters, The Quarterly, NOON, and numerous other periodicals and anthologies—most recently The Best Short Fictions 2015 (selected by Robert Olen Butler) and The Best Short Fictions 2016 (selected by Stuart Dybek).
She was a fiction editor for many years, helped launch O, The Oprah Magazine, where she served as Executive Articles Editor for seven years, and subsequently held senior-level "at- large" positions at More magazine and Reader's Digest. In addition, she served as the Center for Fiction's web editor. She has taught in the MFA program at Columbia University, the Center for Fiction, and at Summer Literary Seminars in St. Petersburg, Russia; Montreal; and Vilnius, Lithuania.
She currently works as a freelance editor for individuals and creative organizations, specializing in short stories, memoir, and narrative nonfiction. Her next book, a biography, is under contract at Blue Rider/Penguin.