Books, Writing

Why am I writing my book as an epistolary memoir?

What is an epistolary memoir?

Broadly speaking, an epistolary memoir is a memoir of letters. I learned about it when I began researching my book and was struggling with how to start the story. While I enjoyed reading memoirs, I didn’t know how to write or structure my own book. Each book I read was different, and the more I read, the more confused I became. I now realize that there is no one specific way to write a memoir because every writing style and story is unique. Moreover, I understood that once I knew my story would help me structure the book. With that in mind, I began my journey of self-reflection of what narrative I wanted to write and the style I wanted to write it in!  This exploration led me to decide that I wanted the manuscript in the style of a novel. 

I have always had a love for fiction that allows me to imagine more than my surroundings. In many ways, I feel that novel writing gives me greater license to write more descriptions and richer characters. It also helps me embellish my experiences. Eventually, this led me to epistolary memoirs and can be written as a letter, diary, or personal essay.  

The benefits of writing an epistolary memoir.

In general, I believe there are many benefits to letter-writing and can produce a great memoir. Firstly, epistolary writing brings out densely layered topics and questions. When writing these letters of communication can result in greater self-reflection, and often more information is revealed. Moreover, sharing this process of self-discovery connects more with readers and creates a sense of participation and involvement that intrigues readers.

Secondly, epistolary writing introduces particular grammar, syntax, and vocabulary that creates distinct characterization development. This is because the language manipulates the text to emphasize specific information in the letter while also leaving out other details. This disparity results in a heightened curiosity about what readers don´t know.         

Lastly, I find that epistolary writing is very appealing as authors have the opportunity to write to an invisible audience. Like writing a diary, what the writer shares is often more personal, more transparent, and attracts readers.      

Examples of epistolary writing.

As I continue to write my memoir, I am also dedicating time to read widely about epistolary writing. Here are some of the books I am reading (both fiction and nonfiction) to help me with my research. 

  1. The Perks of Being a Wallflower – Stephen Chbosky

(Fiction)

This book centers around Charlie, a high school boy who shares his world by sending letters to a friend. The story unravels with every letter as readers learn about Charlie’s life, his feelings surrounding friends and family, and his reaction to them. It is a funny as well as a devastating story that captures the hearts of readers.  

  1. The Soul of a Woman – Isabel Allende

(Nonfiction)

This is a coming-of-age memoir, described by some as an epistolary essay where Isabel Allende dives into her life experience and views on feminism. She reflects upon her childhood, about her mother as a single parent, and Allende´s ardent marriages and long career.    

  1. The Fire Next Time – James Baldwin

(Nonfiction) 

A bestseller book consisting of two letters, “My Dungeon Shook: Letter to My Nephew on the One Hundredth Anniversary of the Emancipation.” The second letter is “Down at the Cross: Letter from a Region in My Mind.” Balwin examines racism in America and his personal reflections that ´confront the oppressive institutions of race, religion, and nationhood itself´1.  

  1. Dear Committee Members – Julie Schumacher

(Fiction) 

This hilarious epistolary novel focuses on Jason Fitger, a creative writing and literature professor at Payne University. His life is in disarray with a stagnating writing career and an equally dry romantic spell. In addition, his department continues to face financial cuts while the Economics department receives more opportunities. Moreover, students and colleagues continue to ask for recommendation letters from Fitger, and so he begins a series of documents in response. A funny novel surrounding the world of academia.   

  1. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society – Mary Ann Shaffer, Annie Barrows 

(Fiction)

The author Juliet Ashton starts looking for inspiration for her new book and finds it from a letter she receives from Dawsey Adams. Native to the island Guernsey, Dawsey comes across her name in a book, and a correspondence begins. Juliet is swept in the world of Dawsey and his friends, who are members of the book club The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.   

References:

  1. Penguin Random House, https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/7753/the-fire-next-time-by-james-baldwin/ 

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