Memoir, History, and Writing a Life
Storytellling has always held an important place in human society, but what does it mean to separate fact from fiction in the process? Tell Me True is a collection of fourteen essays from award-winning memoirists and historians Patricia Hampl, Elaine Tyler May, Carlos Eire, D.J. Waldie, Andre Aciman, June Cross, Helen Epstein, Matt Becker, Samuel G. Freedman, Fenton Johnson, Alice Kaplan, Annette Kobak, Michael Patrick MacDonald, and Cheri Register. They show us how easy it is to question the distinction between memory and history, and regardless of the answer, how to tell us true.
In the book’s introduction, editors Patricia Hampl and Elaine Tyler May explain:
“The writers here – historians, journalists, poets, and fiction writers – are also memoirists. They – we – are caught in this complex rhythm, not masters of it. That is the point of this collection. For it is right here, in the contemporary tango of history and memoir, that crucial questions of narrative authority in our times are being resolved. Or perhaps not ‘resolved,’ any more than the mysteries of the past can be ‘solved.’ We have gathered testimony from the field – of play, of battle, of the writing of history and the writing of a life – from practitioners who have to contend with these devilish problems at the level of the paragraph and the sentence. Consider these essays, then, as dispatches from the front lines. The front lines of narrative documentary writing in our times.”
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Patricia Hampl is the Regents’ Professor and McKnight Distinguished Professor at the University of Minnesota where she teaches creative writing. She is also on the permanent faculty of The Prague Summer Program. Hampl specializes in personal essay, short fiction and poetry, memoir and autobiography, creative writing, and contemporary American poetry and fiction, especially the short story and the novel.
Carlos Eire became a professor of history and religious studies at Yale University in 1996. He specializes in the social, intellectual, religious, and cultural history of late medieval and early modern Europe, with a focus on both the Protestant and Catholic Reformations; the history of popular piety; and the history of death.
Fellow travelers are scholars, activists, and practitioners that embody the ideals and commitments of the Project on Lived Theology. We admire their work and are grateful to be walking alongside them in the development and dissemination of Lived Theology.