A Student of Memoirs

On any given afternoon, I can be found flipping furiously through writers’ memoirs.

Libraries, used book stores, and friends’ bookshelves feed my addiction. But before I can open my soul to a writer’s heart, my fingers must feverishly turn to the memoir’s copyright page. From there, my eyes find the year and the publisher. Only then are my digits free to move to my next obsession: the acknowledgements. Before I can absorb a line of writer’s journey, I want to know for whom the author gives thanks—particularly if a literary agent is among them. Once this copyright-publisher-acknowledgements routine is out of the way, I am free to breathe in the story.

I can’t take credit for this modus operandi. I learned it from one of my favorite Duke Divinity School professors, Dr. Lauren F. Winner: author and theologian extraordinaire. Through her courses (and her encouragement as a friend), she taught me these clever tricks that can help one achieve publication. See a book you like? Study it! When was it published and by whom? Who is the literary agent? Editor? Write it down; add it to your list of publishers/agents/editors to query.

And so I’ve become a student of writers’ memoirs.

This (albeit swift and useful) process befuddles my husband. During our frequent literary adventures, he’ll present a piece he knows I’ll adore (confession: we are both addicted to books), and no sooner can my fingers flip to the to the aforementioned content than I hear,

“Dana!” “Stop!”

“Why?” (I ask this each time, but I know his answer)

“Because it doesn’t matter!” He huffs and rolls his eyes, in vain. He knows I’ll never stop doing this.

On my lifetime journey toward book-length publishing, I have lived by the notion that each clue I gather along creative nonfiction path may someday lead to my own publishing success. Indulging in the black-and-white reality of someone else’s manifested dreams fuels my own passion and hope.

What are your quirky book habits?

Editor’s note: This post came out of the realization that, during our latest Saturday afternoon Edwin McKay Used Books & More adventure, I am the dork who pulls memoirs off the shelves and frantically thumbs through their first pages while other (wiser?) fun-loving creatures glide past me, salivating over popular fiction.

Another editor’s note: I’m compiling a resource list of memoirs and other creative nonfiction pieces for an upcoming workshop I’m teaching on “Writing as a Spiritual Practice” with the Rev. Christoper T. Copeland. What are your favorites? I’ll share the list on this blog after the workshop.



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