The Prologue in Memoir

Friday, April 24, 2009

Last night, in part two of my two-part class,"Very First Words," we spoke of the prologues that seem to launch so many memoirs—the pronouncements of theme and tone, the pencil strokes of frame, the percolated entanglements of story lines. We read out loud from books in the making and looked for wasteland stretches that might be eradicated, flat horizons in need of sky, opportunities to turn complication into complexity.

This morning, a day of corporate work begins (interviews! a succession of stories! schedule management!), and I'm about to put my many books back onto the shelves. Before I do, though, I share four teachable prologues, should you be weighing beginnings in your own mind.

We went there for everything we needed.... Most of all we went there when we needed to be found
(The Tender Bar/J.R. Moehringer).

For a long time, my want for Texas was so veiled in guilt and ambiguity that I couldn't claim it for the sadness it was
(A Strong West Wind/Gail Caldwell).

Everything about Great Salt Lake is exaggerated—the heat, the cold, the salt, and the brine. It is a landscape so surreal one can never know what it is for certain.... Volunteers are beginning to reconstruct the marshes just as I am trying to reconstruct my life
(Refuge/Terry Tempest Williams).

So, dear son, where to begin? It could be the August morning I stood on our front steps wondering whether to go in for a jacket, but first let me step back as far as I can and say that what I remember most about my beginnings, besides the voice of my mother striding down through layers of dark to where I lay under the wonder of the onrush of sleep, is how I felt set apart (A Step from Death, Larry Woiwode).


Anonymous said...

Thank you for the passages. I spent hours today working on the first paragraph of draft 8--not memoir--but I identify with the challenge of beginnings. I especially liked the one about Great Salt Lake--maybe because I've been there. I love the tendrils in that photo btw.

Melissa said...

This post makes me want to read all these books! They are wonderful beginnings.

Sherry said...

You gift us so kindly us you go bury yourself in business responsibilities. The photo itself launches interest and tone.

I like the thought of being able to find the complication of a beginning and turning it into complexity. Thank you for the teachable prologues. I especially feel drawn in by Moehringer's.

Beth Kephart said...

LN, B&BM, Sherry: You are among the special souls who make writing these blogs so worthwhile. Thank you.

Tessa said...

Such startlingly powerful and compelling prologues - I, too, feel I want to read each one now. Thank you, Beth, for your knowledge and insight.

There is one beginning I remember by heart. I suppose because it gave me such a jolt of recognition...even at the age of 17, which is when I first read Karen Blixen's 'Out of Africa'.

I had a farm in Africa, at the foot of the Ngong Hills. The Equator runs across these highlands, a hundred miles to the north, and the farm lay at an altitude of over six thousand feet. In the day-time you felt that you had got high up, near to the sun, but the early mornings and evenings were limpid and restful, and the nights were cold.

Becca said...

These are all such beautiful beginnings, making the reader long for more...which is just what a "beginning" should do, isn't it?

I particularly like the Woiwode, and I want to know more about why he felt set apart.

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