Important words about memoir, brought to you by Jesmyn Ward.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

For any of those who might need just a bit more proof that it pays to, as I say "soften your stance" when approaching memoir, I offer these words from Jesmyn Ward, whose new memoir, Men We Reaped, is high on my reading list (but not read yet).

The story of Ward's memoir is featured in yesterday's New York Times in a piece by Laura Tillman. I excerpt from the middle of the story. I admire and applaud Ward's desire to find the larger story, for it is the larger story, always, that lies at the heart of memoir. She waited to write until she understood. She waited until she could identify meaning.

From the story:
“Men We Reaped,” to be published on Tuesday by Bloomsbury, is as much an existential detective story as it is a personal history, as Ms. Ward searches for a unifying reason that her brother, Joshua, her cousin C. J. and friends Roger, Demond and Ronald — all young black men — died within a four-year period. 

She writes first about Roger Eric Daniels III, who died of a heart attack at 23 while using cocaine.
“They picking us off, one by one,” a friend tells Ms. Ward in the book, as they watch the hearse leave Mr. Daniels’s home. 

Who, she wonders, are “they”? 

“Was there a larger story that I was missing as all these deaths accumulated, as those I loved died?”
“Men We Reaped” is that larger story. With a novelist’s skill, Ms. Ward mines her memories of the men, like the girlhood crush she had on Ronald, or the night she enlisted a friend to wake her sister, who was dating C. J., to break the news of his death. What she finds are threads of the past that linger in the collective present, specifically the role that the South’s legacy of racism has played in how these young men lived and died.


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