Writing Tips
Home Biography Books & Articles Events Writing Talk Workshops

A good memoir lets you into a whole world, not just one single life. Here are 25 worlds that I, and my students, have loved entering:

1. Andre Aciman, Out of Egypt
about growing up in a hilarious Jewish family living in exile in twentieth century Egypt.

2. Max Apple, Roommates
a wise, curmudgeon of a grandfather shares the author’s room, physically and spiritually, for 104 years, and beyond.

3. Russell Baker, Growing Up
about growing up during the Depression as a lazy boy with a pushy single mother who insists he “make something of himself.”

4. Kim Barnes, Out of the Wilderness
a daughter comes of age in a Pentecostal household in Idaho and what it takes to leave that life.

5. Peter Balakian, Black Dog of Fate
a New Jersey boy grows up in the silences of his family’s memories of the Armenian Holocaust—and sets out to uncover what happened.

6. Jung Chang, Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China
the stories of three generations of women in a Chinese family: the first, a concubine; the second, an ardent Maoist; the third, the author who leaves China for England.

7. Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai
a family struggles to survive the Cultural Revolution in China. Wonderful insights into the history of those times.

8. Jill Ker Conway, Road from Coorain
about a childhood in the Australian outback and how a family, intent on doing everything right, struggles unsuccessfully to make it in the harsh life.

9. Cathy N. Davidson, Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji
an America woman goes to Japan to teach English for a year. Wonderful cross-cultural insights.

10. Magda Denes, Castles Burning
about a Hungarian family who survives the Holocaust in hiding. Also offers a fine look into life as a DP (displaced person) after the war.

11. Helen Epstein, Where She Came From
a look at three generations of Jewish women from Eastern Europe and their legacy to their American-born descendent . A wonderful mix of memoir and historic research.

12. Lucy Grealy, Autobiography of a Face
about trying to come to terms with issues of beauty when you’ve had cancer of the jaw as an eight-year-old.

13. Donald Hall, String Too Short To Be Saved
recollections of summers on his grandparents’ New Hampshire farm. Wonderful portraits of New England life and values.

14. Patricia Hampl, I Could Tell You Stories
a collection of essays that uses memoir to tell larger truths about memory and imagination.

15. Maxine Hong Kingston, Woman Warrior
the legacy of the past for a Chinese-American girl.

16. Primo Levi, Survival at Auschwitz
a look at the human spirit and what it takes to survive the most inhuman of conditions.

17. Bert Lott, Fathers, Sons, and Brothers
delightful insights into the lives of men, as fathers, sons, and brothers, in one family. A wonderful entrée into everyday family life from a male perspective.

18. Mary Morris, Nothing to Declare
a woman leaves American stress to live alone in Saint Miguel, Mexico for year. A wonderful mix of memoir and travel writing.

19. James McBride, The Color of Water
a memoir about growing up in Harlem, one of 12 children of a white Jewish mother and black father. Told in two voices: one the son; one the mother. A favorite with students.

20. Frank McCourt, Angela’s Ashes
a coming of age in Limerick, Ireland. It’s the rhythmic voice that makes this story of family love and dire poverty so powerful.

21. Lauren Slater, Welcome to My Country
stories of a psychotherapist and her schizophrenic patients, told with understanding and respect of someone who has known mental illness firsthand.

22. Abraham Verghese, My Own Country
a doctor from India, American trained, goes from Boston to Tennessee to treat AIDS patients.

23. Bruce Weigl, The Circle of Hanh: A Memoir
how being a young soldier in Vietnam shaped the life of a poet and a man.

24. Geoffrey Wolff, Duke of Deception
a boy gradually finds out that the father he adores is a con man and destructive. What to do? This is a great companion piece to brother, Tobias’s, This Boy’s Life. You see the same family from two perspectives, a rare treat in memoir.

25. Tobias Wolff, This Boy’s Life
after the family splits up, a mother and son leave father and brother behind and head West for fresh start and a new identity that keeps eluding them.