Writing Project 1: Memoir

DUE: Friday, 9/16/11

Write an essay about an event from your past that you consider significant in some way. Tell your story so that your reader can see what you saw and feel what you felt, creating a "you are there" feeling in the reader. Your goal is not merely to tell about your event but to show what happened by dramatizing the event. Your memoir should also convey the meaning and significance of the event.

The final copy of your memoir should be formatted in MLA style (see Trimbur 379). Your memoir should be at least as long as "Let It Snow" by David Sedaris but no longer than "American Meat" by Bich Minh Nguyen.

The memoir will be graded using the Writing Program Rubric. See below for an adapted version of the rubric as it applies to the memoir.

Characteristics of a Memoir

Notes from class
CONTENT– what is it about? What must it contain? What can it contain?
FORM– what is it about? What must it contain? What can it contain?
  • About a rare occurrence – stuff that normally doesn’t happen
  • A short meaningful moment
  • Event from childhood
  • Lesson – maybe not stated (different readers may get a different lesson from the memoir)
  • Message – writer’s view/opinion
  • Point of revelation for the narrator—they figure something out in their life
  • Focuses on development of writer’s personality
  • Vivid detail – gives the reader the feeling that they were there in the moment
  • First-person narrator
  • Emotion
  • Suspense
  • Narrative in chronological order
  • Personal observation
  • Voice – sounds like the writer is just talking, easy to read

Explorations in Memoir Writing

Some topics to explore to help you get ideas for your memoir writing.
Territory to Explore
Think of treasured things that you have, collections, a talisman, or special item. If you can, hold the artifact and recall the special time, place, person, or event associated with it.
Write about stories that your family tells about each other. Consider “family characters,” rituals, birth order, roles and responsibilities.
Ethnicity, Race, Culture
Consider experiences you have had with racism, overcoming barriers of culture, feeling like an outsider, or overcoming some barrier of culture
Difficult Times
Consider times when your life was in crisis, when you had family problems, failing health, uncertainty and doubt
Uses of language
Consider experiences of bilingualism, learning another language, unique speech or slang
Relationships, individual quirks, tensions, joys, intense times, habits, sayings, appearance
Turning Point
Describe a major turning point in your life, before and after stories
Earliest Memories
What is the first thing you remember?
Have you ever felt your life to be in danger?
Have you ever had an encounter with the police?

The Writing Program Rubric and the Memoir

I will use the Writing Program's Grading Rubric to evaluate the final drafts of all your writing projects in this class. Here is an explanation of how the categories apply to the memoir.

  • Focus (a clear significance) - The memoir clearly suggests or states its significance. It skillfully answers the "so what?" question. The memoir provides insight on the subject or author.
  • Organization - The memoir has a coherent and meaningful order and is shaped for effect (beginning and ending, climax, integration of background/description, pacing/suspense).
  • Development - The story or memory is fully developed with specific details, events, descriptions, dialogue, etc. used for purposeful effect. Showing vs. telling.
  • Syntax and Diction (Style) - Sentences have effective phrasing and flow with varied structures chosen for stylistic purposes. The writing contains vivid verbs, precise nouns, powerful and effective imagery.
  • Format and Design-fully integrates elements of design to best serve rhetorical purpose (.e.g., title, photos/images, headings, font). An example of a college paper in MLA format is on pp. 379. Do not use a title page or submit your paper in a report cover.
  • Mechanics - Free of errors in spelling, grammar, and punctuation.