Are you a Generous Mind?

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Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Memoir: Self-Centered or Self-Giving?

Today, Stephanie S. Smith shares about the memoir and how sharing your story can be an exercise of a generous mind.

Stephanie S. Smith is a twentysomething writer, editor, blogger and literary publicist addicted to print and pixels. She runs her business, (In)dialogue Communications, from her home in Upstate New York where she lives with her husband. Follow her blogging about embodied faith, creative life, and millennial culture at or @stephindialogue.

America seems to have a love/hate relationship with the memoir. This genre has risen in popularity over the past decade, with advocates praising its transparency and the inspiration of human triumph over the odds, and critics accusing it of syrupy, self-centered drivel.

I’ve read memoirs that fall into both categories, and while at times personal narrative slides into an egocentric universe of one, I would argue that the memoir is a powerful creative outlet for self-giving.

Memoir as Hospitality
Telling your story is a deeply personal act, requiring confidence and vulnerability. We do not invite suspicious strangers into our homes to sit at our table; neither do we entrust the tragedies and triumphs of our lives to just anyone. Storytelling is an exchange that only happens in the context of great confidence. And to invite a person into your story is a powerful act of hospitality.

Memoir as Community
In 1 Thessalonians 2:8, Paul describes the effects of hospitality in his ministry to the local church, “We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us.” (NIV 1984) Love for others, rather than selfishness, provokes us to share not only the gospel truth, but the personal and intimate details of our lives with others. Following this model, personal story-telling through memoir opens the door to community, creating a safe environment for others to empathize and share their stories as well.

C.S. Lewis once said, “We read to know that we are not alone,” and memoir is perhaps the best literary form to meet this need in the life of the reader, as self-giving narrators tell their tales and open the door to universal community of the human spirit.


David T. Ulrich said...

Categorizing memoir as "hospitality" and "community" is a great way to look at it.

It can be vanity, self-inflation, self-obsession.

But your post shows that it can also be self-disclosure, which we all enjoy in the right measure. I wish more people told me their stories.

Stephanie S. Smith said...

David, I would definitely agree with you that memoir can be self-obsession, and it can also make readers voyeurs.

My hope is that we can learn to tell stories that cultivate redemption in each other. Self-disclosure, as you said, is one of the first steps.