February 13, 2006
John Hope Franklin on ALOUD on The Off-Ramp
Through a special collaboration with 89.3 KPCC, ALOUD on the Off-Ramp extends the insightful discussions of ALOUD at Central Library to allow both audience members and listeners the unique opportunity to engage each other in an informal exchange of ideas beyond the live lecture and performance series held regularly at the Downtown Central Library.
ALOUD on the Off-Ramp will present thought-provoking questions posed by participating guests from the award-winning series. 89.3 KPCC and ALOUD at Central Library invite you to join in and respond by voicing your own opinions and viewpoints.
Presented by the Library Foundation of Los Angeles, in association with the Los Angeles Public Library, ALOUD at Central Library presents over 75 live events a year and provides a public forum for discussion and ideas from some of todayís brightest writers, thinkers, and innovators.
On Monday, February 13, 2006, renowned scholar of American history John Hope Franklin sat down with journalist Tavis Smiley for a lively exchange on race, politics, and the future of America. Franklin, one of the most honored and decorated academics in the U.S., and professor emeritus at Duke University, has devoted his life and career to the pursuit of equality.
In his newly published book, Mirror to America: The Autobiography of John Hope Franklin, the ninety-year-old historian looks back on the events that shaped the 20th century, exploring the issues of race through his own experiences. As both a unique historical document and an intimate, revelatory personal history, Franklinís book defies traditional categorization.
After the program, John Hope Franklin posed the following question for ALOUD on the Off Ramp:
What is the difference between memoir and autobiography?
Click on the comment link below to send us your feedback.
Posted by ALOUD at 4:54 PM
Autobiography, n. A first date between one's ambition and accomplishment.
Memoir, n. A look back at events as they might have occured looking forward.
The Memoir is the one with the ghost-writer.
Posted by: Doug on February 14, 2006 9:03 AM
I've read that a memoir has an element of fiction that is not associated with a book categorized as a biography. If I am reading a biography, I will expect that the book's content will be researched and verified for accuracy. Whereas, I will expect a memoir to place more emphasis on telling a story than on practicing accurate journalistic writing.
Posted by: Mark Leonard on February 14, 2006 1:03 PM
With autobiography, we have an unspoken pact between writer and reader that the narrator, the subject and the writer are all the same person. In that pact, we (readers) also expect a verifiable version of the truth that can be backed up by either historical documentation, other people, or some other sort of "hard" evidence.
Memoir is much more fluid and oftentimes contains a much higher level of subjective interpretation of events. For instance, Maxine Hong Kingston's "Woman Warrior" is labeled as memoir/autobiography, but half of the book is actually about other members of her family, re-imaginings of the Mulan legend, and an extended fantasy. Did these things really "happen"? Does it matter? Each of these subjective experiences still tells the reader something about the writer and even omissions of fact can be just as important as what gets put in.
However, I still think that there are elements of the autobiographical pact present when we pick up a book labeled "memoir" We still expect the writer and the subject to be the same person and we still expect a level of veracity.
Posted by: Valerie on February 15, 2006 3:54 PM
I wholeheartedly second the insights of Valerie: readers expect a greater degree of veracity with "self-life-writing" (i.e., autobiography) than they do with the memoir. The autobiographical contract does bring with it the expectation that what we are being told is the truth. Memoirs, on the other hand, are often more genre-bending than the traditional autobiography. Besides Kingston's "Woman Warrior," another work by an Asian American writer that comes to mind is Li-Young Lee's "The Winged Seed," which relies a great deal on the factual elements of his extraordinary life but functions, as he has admitted, very much as an extended, meditative prose poem. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in memoir or poetry.
Posted by: Marc on February 15, 2006 6:15 PM
Back in the late sixties I was a graduate student at the University of Chicago and had the pleasure of studying with Dr. Franklin. He was (and is) the consummate "mensch," and the finest role-model for future scholars that exists in academia. I cannot pass up this opportunity to honor him and his illustrious career, even though my comments are not to the point of the discussion. Whatever his book is, memoir or autobiography, it is worth reading.
Posted by: ALLEN KRAUSE on February 16, 2006 10:11 AM
Memoir or autobiography? Does it have to do with memory and/or research? What about the poetry of one's life?
It seems to me that a memoir is a "telling of memories." It is probably based on fact, but the facts are colored by the softening of years, or lengthened by the telling, as the fish caught lengthens with the telling.
An autobiographer has a more formal committment to fact, the truth, uncolored, stark or sad or illegal. The facts are verified. The story is exact, the addresses are accurate. No room for poetry here.
That's how it seems to me.
Posted by: Peggy on February 17, 2006 8:51 AM
An autobiography and a memoir are similar in that no matter which you embark upon writing, you'd be better off waiting until most of your relatives and friends die off so as not to offend anyone!
Seriously, I agree with Valerie's and Mark's posting - verifiability distinguishes the autobiography while increased subjectivity is more likely to be expected and accepted in a memoir.
Posted by: Billie Pagliolo on February 17, 2006 11:50 AM
A memoir is someone's perceptions and subjective interpretations of life as that person experienced moments in time. I do not expect such a genre to be absolutely factual.
An autobiography is expected to be factual, historical, and substantially verifiable.
Posted by: Mary Kay Laurent on February 17, 2006 11:26 PM
A memoir. The root word is mem as in memory. It is someones memory of what happened. It may be embellished. It reads like a novel not a diary.
A biography is the true story of a person's life.
Posted by: fmlyons on February 19, 2006 9:36 PM
As I understand it, and I admit I am not certain, memoir is more focused on a singular element in the person's life such as the childhood, the career, or perhaps a theme of racial injustice. Autobiography seems to be more all-encompassing. Famous or historically significant people write autobiography. We are awed by the personal stories of people who intrigued us as a society. Memoir seems more suited for the anonymous masses who still have significant things to say by retelling elements of our lives. For someone to want to read our stories, we need to tie into a more universal theme that people can relate to. Parenthood, surviving tragedy, and celebrating accomplishments would be themes around which a memoir is centered. Or not.
Posted by: Scott on February 22, 2006 12:50 PM
A memoir is written by the person in question, and usually an autobiography is written after death by someone else. An autobiography is therefore usually more objective, and a memoir more subjective.
Posted by: Therese on March 6, 2006 7:46 PM
Therese's definition is wrong. It would take some doing to write an autobiography after death. Auto means by one's self. She's thinking of BIOGRAPHY.
It has been said that "...autobiography is fiction written by amateurs." I've done both, and it's hard to sort out the real from the imagined.
Now, I'm one who does not understand the acronym, URL
Posted by: Ruth Radlauer on March 9, 2006 3:39 PM