I’ve enjoyed some fiction by prolific author Joyce Carol Oates, so I was interested to learn that she’s written a memoir that does not follow the traditional mold of telling her life story but, rather, covers primarily the mourning period that somewhat paralyzed her creativity after her husband’s death. The recently published book, A Widow’s Story: A Memoir, was featured this past Sunday in the New York Times Book Review.
As a memoir writer yourself, you may fear that you have nothing new to say about life on earth, that every observation already has found its way into print or onto the Internet. Oates is not the first woman in her late 60s to lose a husband to pneumonia at age 77. This is not a tragic tale; it’s an ordinary one. Yet every story is different. To be sure, Oates brings her considerable gifts as a writer to keep the reader engaged in her narrative, but the real hook is simply the uniqueness of every human experience, every personal relationship, every life.
You don’t have to blaze new ground with your memoir. While many people may share your history in one aspect or another, no one has built the same combination of experiences. You are sole owner of the episodes in your life, and your recollections further reveal your unique reactions. Someone else would have made other choices, acted in different ways. Your memoir will be something that no one else could have authored—only you.