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Crisis memoir

Pronounced /ˈkraɪsɪs ˈmɛmwɑː/Help with IPA

This is one of the many names that have been given to a form of confessional and self-revelatory writing rooted in the experiences of the author and which frequently discusses breakdown, childhood abuse, depression, addiction or illness. Some recent examples are The Kiss by Kathryn Harrison, Skating to Antarctica by Jenny Diski, and Prozac Nation by Elizabethd Wurzel. There’s nothing particularly new in such writings, of course, as they go back at least to the Confessions of St Augustine 1600 years ago, and the current series has been traced to the writings of Truman Capote and Tom Wolfe in the 1960s, if not earlier. But now such intimate memoirs have become so fashionable that a generic name has had to be found for them. But there is as yet no clear consensus: other terms that have been used include narrative non-fiction, personal writing, confessionalism, autopathography and creative non-fiction.

The confessional mode, whether it bears the label “personal writing” or “crisis memoir,” is becoming formalized and institutionalized in college courses and workshops as a foster child to the creative writing of fiction.

James Wolcott, in Vanity Fair, Oct. 1997

Almost by definition, there has to be a happy ending: such “crisis memoirs” can be written only when the authors have put some distance between themselves and the material.

Blake Morrison, Too True, Granta, 1998

Page created 18 Jul. 1998

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Last modified: 18 July 1998.