How to Write A Memoir Part One
I launched my career with a memoir, Migrations of the Heart, published when I was 33 years old. Carol Mann a Manhattan literary agent had read a draft of my first attempt at a novel. In a meeting in her Lower East Side office, she was encouraging, and then she asked me about my life. When I told her that I was visiting from Lagos, Nigeria where I lived with my Nigerian husband, her eyes brightened with interest. When I told her that I had come of age as a Black Power activist in college, was a feminist, a freelance journalist and now lived in the capital city of Africa ‘s most populous nation as a member of a large Yoruba family, she smiled in surprise. When I shared stories of my struggle to maintain my back-to-the-motherland idealism in a society that was deeply patriarchal, tribalistic, and that did not recognize me as returning kin, and that despite all that I felt more comfortable in my skin living there than I ever had in America she asked me if I had ever considered writing a book about all of that. My answer was no. A year later, as my marriage dissolved, and I contemplated and planned a return to the U.S. the answer became yes.
Migrations of the Heart was published in 1983 and over the next several years as women and people of color nudged their stories into the center of discourse, it became a widely read book on college campuses and with book-clubs. It remains in print today. Memoirs now rival novels in popularity, are studied, critiqued by scholars, make the best-seller list, and at their best are a form of literature and art. In between novels and anthologies, I followed Migrations of the Heart with two “communal memoirs” (my term), Saving Our Sons Raising Black Children in a Turbulent World where I wrote about raising my son against the backdrop of the urban violence of the 1990s and wove into that narrative the stories of other families; and Don’t Play in the Sun One Woman’s Journey Through the Color Complex, the story of my journey as a brown-skinned woman in a color-conscious world that included powerful stories of men and women of all shades who had experienced colorism.
Who from your childhood, impacted you this deeply? Can you capture in a sentence or paragraph what they gave you and what that gift meant?
“Attitude is a choice. Happiness is a choice. Optimism is a choice. Kindness is a choice. Giving is a choice. Whatever choice you make makes you. Choose wisely.” ~ Roy T. Bennett