Daily Archives: April 5, 2012

Cheryl Strayed on honesty in memoir

I was an avid journaler all through my twenties and I wrote in my journal every day of my hike, sometimes twice a day. That journal was incredibly helpful to me as I wrote “Wild.” I recorded many details and snippets of dialogue that would otherwise have been lost. Having that document allowed me to correct, corroborate, or expand things I remembered. In some cases, I tracked down people I met on the trail and asked them to share their memories of the time we spent together, but most of all I relied on my memory of what happened and how it felt. Memoir is the art of subjective truth, and while I feel a strong obligation to the truth piece of that, I also firmly plant that truth within the context of my own subjectivity. I didn’t write anything that didn’t happen the way I remember it happening, and yet I’m fairly certain there are things that others would remember slightly differently. Of course there are a million instances that I brought to life by using the skills of a storyteller, as memoirists do — did the wind really blow that man’s hair across his face the moment he asked me that question? Maybe. Maybe not. But that’s how I pictured it in my mind and so I reproduced it for you on the page.

Cheryl Strayed, author of the memoir Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, made her comments in an interview with John Williams for The New York Times. Miwa Messer also has an interesting interview for Barnes and Noble with the author of this very hot memoir.

Asked by Messer why it took her so long to write Wild, Strayed, a novelist and short story writer whose excellent essay “The Love of My Life” on her self-destructive sexuality and heroin addiction is available on line at The Sun, alluded to the memoirist’s necessity to not merely relate experience but to understand it:

I teach memoir on occasion and the question I’m always pushing my students to answer in their work is not what happened, but what it means. I think that’s why it took me more than a decade to begin writing about my hike. I had to figure out what it meant. I couldn’t do that until I’d lived a while beyond it; until I’d moved solidly out of the era of my life that I write about in Wild. At its core Wild is a story about a woman figuring out how she’s going to live in the world given the facts of her life — some which are painful. I couldn’t tell the story about how that woman figured it out until she really had.

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Filed under Author Interview, honesty, immersion, memoir