Memoir by Canned Goods

Showboat Pork and Beans, Chef Boyardee Ravioli, Campbell’s Tomato Soup, SpaghettiOs, Dinty Moore Beef Stew. When I was a teenager in the seventies, all I needed was one of these, a can opener, a stove, and I had myself a meal. In those days, my mother worked. She worked in the laundry or on the…

Read More

Memoir and Dramatizing Meaning

We all have moments from our pasts we can never forget. Memoirists tap into those moments when constructing a narrative. Dramatization allows us to find a causal chain that perhaps didn’t exist in real life. When we write memoir, we strive to document, but we also try to give some shape to experience. If we…

Read More

The Small Things Contain the Memoir

Yesterday, I was upstairs in my office when I heard my wife crying. I immediately knew why. Cathy, you see, has begun to put the story of her family onto the page. It’s a complicated story, as some of you know—a story of secrets, a story of a mother and her daughters, a story of…

Read More

A Message Box: Objects and Memoirs

Because my father was a farmer, we barely knew what it was to take a vacation. There were crops to tend and livestock to feed, and God forbid our cattle got out of their pasture, as they sometimes did, and we weren’t there to corral them. All through my childhood, I only remember us going…

Read More

Family Secrets

It’s 1961, and my wife Cathy, nearly four years old at the time, is sitting with her great-aunt Tom on a stone bench alongside a brick building on Fulton Avenue in Evansville, Indiana. They’re sitting in the shade watching a rabbit hop about and nibble at grass blades. Her grandfather and grandmother have told her…

Read More

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…

Read More

What We Know Now That We Didn’t Know Then

For the second summer, Cathy and I are renting space in a community garden. We have a 4-foot by 12-foot raised bed. We’ve enjoyed our spring plantings of lettuce, spinach, and radishes, and now we’re watching the summer crops take hold: peppers, tomatoes, purple hull peas, Kentucky Wonder pole beans, and okra. I’ve never grown…

Read More

Any Dark Cloud: Memoir, Obsession, and Loss

Here we are at the end of another academic year, only this year we’re facing an uptick in COVID cases at a time when too many people, pandemic-weary, have forsaken protocol, and we’re grieving in the aftermath of another school shooting, this time in Uvalde, Texas, not to mention the ongoing war in Ukraine. It’s…

Read More

Writing the Uncomfortable Places

When I wrote my first memoir, From Our House, I dramatized pivotal moments in my family’s difficulty following the farming accident that cost my father both of his hands. I wrote about my father’s anger. I wrote about how I was often the target of his rage. Sometimes I deserved it, and sometimes I didn’t.…

Read More

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…

Read More