“I write fiction to tell the truth.” Pam Houston
Last month on May 28 the world said goodbye to a great poet, a great writer, a great human being, an activist, a mentor and a phenomenal woman. Dr. Maya Angelou. As a woman I loved to hear Maya Angelou talk. Her wisdom, her stories, her courage and determination inspired me so much. I loved to read her writings, specially her autobiographical memoirs starting with ‘I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings’.
What I like most about her books is that they are not invented, as in fiction, but are true stories as told by the one and only Maya Angelou. In her eulogy Oprah mentioned that the first time she read ‘I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings’ she could relate with the story so much it was as if she was reading her own story.
When I was in my early teens I read Simone de Beauvoir for the first time. The first book I read from her was ‘Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter’. Even though socially, economically and geographically we were worlds apart I felt a connection with her story. I felt as if she was talking about my life as a daughter and my dreams as a girl. And as such I fell in love with the author and became a huge fan of hers.
I guess that’s what a memoir does; it tells small stories that move the readers and it transforms fragments of memory into what a life means.
I personally like to read memoirs. I am interested and care about the “I” story mainly because of the force of language, strength of insight, and skill of storytelling involved. Yet no one tells a story perhaps as well as the late Maya Angelou, or Simone de Beauvoir, or Frank McCourt. Not only that but in their stories they take imaginative leaps that lead beyond the facts to the emotional truth of memory. As Joan Didion wrote:
“…perhaps it never did snow that August in Vermont; perhaps there never were flurries in the night wind, and maybe no one else felt the ground hardening and summer already dead even as we pretended to bask in it, but that was how it felt to me, and it might as well have snowed, could have snowed, did snow.”