Art of Memoir program well received by audience
Thirty people participated in the online Feb. 13, 2021, presentation, “The Art of Memoir,” hosted by Missouri Professional Communicators (MPC) and the St. Louis Artists’ Guild. The program, moderated by MPC's Deb Marshall, featured award-winning author Vivian Gibson (The Last Children of Mill Creek) and life writer Linda Austin (owner, Moon Bridge Books).
Gibson gave some historical background about Mill Creek Valley, which once was the oldest neighborhood in St. Louis. Stretching from Saint Louis University to St. Louis Union Station, this largely Black community was home to approximately 20,000 residents.
“It was a challenge to bring readers to a place that didn’t exist anymore,” Gibson told the program’s participants.
She also said writing this, her first, book happened over four years. Following her mother’s death, Gibson said she started to write down thoughts and memories of her parents and childhood (she is one of eight children). After she retired, Gibson found all her notes while cleaning out a closet and decided to try and weave them together in a story. At the suggestion of her publisher (Belt Publishing), Gibson embarked on her research project about Mill Creek Valley.
“I’ve never had a creative writing course,” Gibson said. “I learned to write from reading.”
Her memoir, which was published in April 2020, has been enthusiastically received; it won the Missouri Humanities Literary Achievement Award last year. For more information about Gibson and her memoir, visit her website.
Austin, who has published three books, including a memoir about her mother, Cherry Blossoms in Twilight, helps people record and share their life stories. She shared during the program helpful tips to start a memoir.
Just write! The story doesn’t have to be a large work. Short stories, essays, poems, or a family cookbook can also tell a life story.
Keep a journal to use as a resource, but keep in mind publishing your journal isn’t the goal. She said the writer should think about what story he or she is trying to tell. “Publishing is a business enterprise,” Austin said.
Be prepared to conduct a good deal of research. She stressed that it’s important to get the details correct, especially when discussing a historical period. Consult with other family members to corroborate important memories or events. She cited sources she often uses as ancestry.com and newspapers.com.
A memoir is a form of creative non-fiction, and thus is similar to writing a novel.
Keep your notes organized in a way that makes sense to you.
And always “write from love,” showing sensitivity when retelling an uncomfortable story.
For more information about her life writing services and books, visit her website.