Continuing with the syllabus we introduced in an earlier blog post for a college course in writing memoirs, we come to the next assignment—actually the next two assignments, since they both involve writing a biographical essay. These assignments will accomplish dual goals. First, they will give you practice in writing about someone else’s life before you attempt to write about your own. Second, you could very well end up including parts or all of these essays in your own memoir.
In both essays, you should choose someone you have known personally for a long time. The first essay will zoom in on the relationship you have with that person, who is likely to be a close relative or friend. Explain how your relationship has changed over time. You may find that you’re writing as much about yourself as about the subject of the essay, and that’s okay.
Select a different person for the second essay, which should more directly focus on the subject’s life. A grandparent is a great choice for this essay. Write 5-7 pages about the person as if you’re writing a classic biography. If the person is alive and accessible, you can interview him or her; you also can interview other people who have known the person. Through this exercise, you’ll discover that even a quiet life can make for interesting reading. It will help you to figure out what to write about yourself when you tackle your memoir.