Ohio University Press · Swallow Press ·

A Swallow Press Book

The Memoir and the Memoirist
Reading and Writing Personal Narrative

By Thomas Larson

“Larson applies his methods to some of the finest examples of the form, with exhilarating analyses of works by writers as diverse as Virginia Woolf, Frank McCourt, Mary Karr, Mark Doty, Dave Eggers, Andrew Hudgins, Maxine Hong Kingston, and Rick Bragg. The result is a book that deserves the attention of literary scholars and anyone attempting to add his or her own contribution to the genre.”


“Indispensable…arguably one of the two or three best references for those who teach and write nonfiction.”


“Larson shines as a reader. His always lucid style, wide-ranging and perceptively analyzed examples, and thorough bibliography of memoirs make the book a valuable reference source as well as a good read.”


“I’ve never met Thomas Larson, but from reading The Memoir and the Memoirist, I’ve concluded that I’d love to talk to him.... He draws on long experience as a reader, writer, and teacher to describe and embrace the modern memoir before it becomes fussed over and codified by academics.”

Fourth Genre: Explorations in Nonfiction

The memoir is the most popular and expressive literary form of our time. Writers embrace the memoir and readers devour it, propelling many memoirs by relative unknowns to the top of the best-seller list. Writing programs challenge authors to disclose themselves in personal narrative. Memoir and personal narrative urge writers to face the intimacies of the self and ask what is true.

In The Memoir and the Memoirist, critic and memoirist Thomas Larson explores the craft and purpose of writing this new form. Larson guides the reader from the autobiography and the personal essay to the memoir—a genre focused on a particularly emotional relationship in the author’s past, an intimate story concerned more with who is remembering, and why, than with what is remembered.

The Memoir and the Memoirist touches on the nuances of memory, of finding and telling the truth, and of disclosing one’s deepest self. It explores the craft and purpose of personal narrative by looking in detail at more than a dozen examples by writers such as Mary Karr, Frank McCourt, Dave Eggers, Elizabeth Wurtzel, Mark Doty, Nuala O’Faolain, Rick Bragg, and Joseph Lelyveld to show what they reveal about themselves. Larson also opens up his own writing and that of his students to demonstrate the hidden mechanics of the writing process.

For both the interested reader of memoir and the writer wrestling with the craft, The Memoir and the Memoirist provides guidance and insight into the many facets of this provocative and popular art form.

Thomas Larson is a critic, memoirist, essayist, and the author of numerous books, including The Sanctuary of Illness: A Memoir of Heart Disease, The Saddest Music Ever Written: The Story of Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings,” and two Swallow Press titles: The Memoir and the Memoirist: Reading and Writing Personal Narrative and Spirituality and the Writer: A Personal Inquiry.   More info →

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Retail price: $16.95, T.
Release date: May 2007
232 pages · 5½ × 8½ in.
Rights:  World

Retail price: $39.95, S.
Release date: May 2007
232 pages · 5½ × 8½ in.
Rights:  World

Release date: May 2007
232 pages
Rights:  World

Additional Praise for The Memoir and the Memoirist

“An invaluable aid for the would-be memoirist, the book is highly recommended.”

The Midwest Book Review

“An established memoirist in his own right, Larson delves into nitty-gritty analyses of memoirs and those who write them.… This is a valuable book for anyone who contemplates writing a memoir, or who simply enjoys reading them.”

American Society of Journalists & Authors

“A particularly enlightening book for memoir writers and teachers. Larson has a readable style, writes intelligently and openly about what makes an authentic piece of life writing. He includes an invaluable number of memoirs worth reading as well as references to books on memoir. Highly recommended.”

The Wordy Gecko Reads blog

“Written with clarity, Larson’s contribution to the analysis of both what drives writers to deliver to a hungry audience the intimate details of their lives, and his opinions about the reason why we keep reading, makes for an enlightening book.”

ForeWord Magazine

“This thoughtfully reasoned and lucidly written book delves further into the dynamics of the new memoir than anything I know of, and is sure to spark discussion, help guide would-be practitioners, and bring much–needed illumination to a vexed subject.”

Phillip Lopate, author of The Art of the Personal Essay

“What makes the book particularly valuable is Larson’s obvious familiarity with and discussion of some of the biggest titles in the field.”


“Thomas Larson’s The Memoir and the Memoirist is much more than another how–to book. With great depth and clarity, Larson examines that which drives writers to cast their lot with truth and celebrates the myriad ways writers ’reassemble’ themselves while seeking and shaping their stories.”

Laurie Alberts, author of Fault Line and Between Revolutions: An American Romance with Russia

“Absorbing and eclectic.”

San Diego Union-Tribune

“In this provocative guide to the art of memoir writing, Larson examines the complex nature of the self in search of itself and demonstrates how the subtle art of remembering gives birth to that anomaly we call the memoirist. The Memoir and the Memoirist is a must read for every writer and reader of this dynamic literary genre.”

Maureen Murdock, author of Unreliable Truth: On Memoir and Memory

“Thomas Larson thoroughly explores the genre from a place of love and critical thinking. He dives headfirst into a sea of human stories, explaining and comparing, bringing readers a better understanding of the uniqueness of the niche.… An enlightening book.”

ForeWord Magazine

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