The Marks We Leave Behind: A Writing Exercise for Memoirists

After my father died, I found the marks he’d left: the wooden handles of tools, scraped and splintered from the pincers of his prosthetic hands—his hooks as he always called them; the clamped edges of pages in his Bible from where he’d held them. I can still recall him sitting at our dining table, working…

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Memoir and the Imagination

My wife Cathy has told me it’s all right if I tell this story. It’s her story of never knowing, until recently, the identity of her biological father. Her mother, a few years before she died, finally, when pressed, gave Cathy the identity of her father. He was deceased, but Cathy had no reason to…

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I’m Mr. Blue: Thoughts on Writing Essays

It’s Christmas night, and I’m in the backseat of my parents’ Chevrolet Belair or the Ford that preceded it, or else riding between them in the cab of my father’s Chevy pickup, and I’m four, or five, or six, or seven, and we’re coming home from another Christmas spent with my mother’s side of the…

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Mad Libs for Creative Nonfiction Writers

Cathy and I, the past few years, have been opening our home on Thanksgiving Day, providing a welcome table to anyone who might need a place to go. Of course, we’re disappointed that the pandemic has made that impossible this year, but our gathering’s loss is a small price to pay for the sake of…

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Keep Going: The Writing Life and Perseverance

  It’s a really windy day here in central Ohio, and consequently there’s a lot of noise—the sound of the wind, the jangle of wind chimes, the creaking of siding on my house. When I was running into that wind in the last of my five miles, it was hard to keep going. The gusts…

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What We Know, What We Don’t: Persona in Memoir

There’s a point in Sue William Silverman’s new memoir, How to Survive Death and Other Inconveniences, where she’s writing about getting a phone call from her doctor, telling her she has an E. coli infection in her bladder. He prescribes the antibiotic, Macrobid. For Sue, who readily admits her hypochondria, the idea of taking the…

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Storytelling in Creative Nonfiction

I’ve always valued narrative as a way of thinking on the page. Whether writing fiction or nonfiction, I’ve always embraced story as a useful strategy for discovering what I think and feel and for learning what I’ve come to the page to say, as well as a means for practicing the art of empathy. It…

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Time and Narrative in Memoir

When it comes to writing memoir, we can never give full expression to an entire life. We have too much from which to choose—too much time, too many moments, too many characters, too many questions. We can, though, find a narrative arc that, if handled skillfully, will contain more of the past, the present, and…

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The Last Time: Using the Past to See the Present and the Future

Last night, at The Ohio State University, we commemorated the conferring of MFAs on this year’s class with a gala reading from their work. We call this event Epilog. I’ve always wondered why whoever named the event didn’t go with the preferred spelling, Epilogue, but, no matter, the meaning is the same: an addition that…

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Making Stories Matter in Creative Nonfiction

I could tell you a story, as I do in my essay, “Bastards,” about the night a young man opened the back door to our house and stepped inside while my mother was washing dishes. I could recall, fact by fact, what happened next. The relevant question for those of us who write creative nonfiction…

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