Friends, this post was written just hours before the July 4 holiday of 2022 turned tragic. What a sad event to drive home the point that, through your memoir, you have an opportunity to add your personal documentation to a shared history.
After today’s fireworks, another Independence Day goes into the books. I mean that literally—Independence Day 2022 may find itself in a memoir someday. As you write your memoir and cover past decades, you may find yourself referring to holidays and current events.
Your Memoir Shapes History
Storytellers control how people remember historical events, as we’re reminded by futurist Erwin McManus’s quote that “whoever tells the best story shapes the culture” and the song in the Hamilton musical asking, “Who tells your story?” Your memoir will take its place among the chronicles of a certain time and place. When you write about your life in 1956 London or 1975 Los Angeles, your published memoir presents as valid a portrayal as any other work describing that place and time.
The pandemic is a perfect example. How could anyone whose childhood spanned the pandemic neglect to describe what life was like when businesses were shuttered, city subways empty, families unable to gather indoors? Perhaps their descendants will know that in 2020 a virus interrupted normal life, but through a memoir they’ll discover the impact on their dad or grandmother in a particular location. A memoir set in New York City will report conditions quite different from one set in rural Wyoming.
Volumes have been written about World War II, but each individual soldier has unique memories from the war. A soldier’s memoir will use the war as both a backdrop and a focal point, and in that way the memoir author will add details in color and texture to what the world knows about the war years.
Uneventful times, if there is such a thing, can slip under the radar. We’re taught in history class that Pearl Harbor was attacked on December 7, 1941, but what do we remember from, say, summer 1959? Offhand, I have no idea. A memoir can provide the contrast between the volatile war that preceded the 1950s and the radical changes that came with the 1960s.
Include the World At Large in Your Memoir
No one memoir will be the defining saga, the last word, about a time and place. But writing about your life is important not only to give voice to your personal experiences but also to contribute to the body of work that memorializes your era.
When you write, pay attention to what was going on in the world and how it affected your decisions, other people’s actions and everything that happened to you. Do some research, pull up some headlines and ask older friends to recall the major news of the day for you. When you write in your Write My Memoirs account, click on the “Historic Events” bar to pull up significant news stories of past decades. It’s a cool writing tool!
Include details when you describe your childhood home, the transportation you took, your city’s downtown—and the July 4 fireworks you’d attend each year. Tell the reader about your first car or cell phone, or how you wrote chain letters or went sledding on a hill that’s now paved over for parking needs.
You’re trying to tell a small story—your life. But when you’re a memoir author, you’re also reporting first-hand on the events you’ve witnessed. Taken together, the memoirs written on that era form the historic narrative of its life and times. Don’t underestimate your contribution to that history.