Reflection by Amye Archer
Point of view is one of the most challenging elements of memoir. Whose story are you telling and from whose perspective? Is it your story? If so, then how do you handle the characterization of other people in your story?
These are questions every budding, and established, memoirist faces when drafting. How lucky was I, and the other attendees of HippoCamp 2016, that we were able to gain some insight into POV from master teacher Kaylie Jones?
Kaylie is not only an accomplished memoirist and novelist, but she truly is a master teacher. During her HippoCamp 2016 session “Point of View in Memoir,” she was funny and engaging. The entire room participated in discussion and brought new insights to this topic. Kaylie began the session with examples from other memoirs, including Nick Flynn’s Another Bullshit Night in Suck City. She had handouts and everyone read a selection in which Flynn bounces in and out of other characters in his story. Kaylie then explained why and how this works. She challenged the crowd to think about the effectiveness of the unreliable narrator and how Flynn uses this technique to create a bond with the reader.
Kaylie also used several examples from her own memoir, Lies My Mother Never Told Me, to illustrate her own struggles with point of view. This led to an interesting discussion about representing people in your story with whom you are estranged. She spoke honestly about an often overlooked consideration in memoir-that of permission. Do we as children, spouses, ex-lovers, parents, etc of our characters have permission to write from their point of view? Many participants were interested in this conversation and it was enormously insightful.
A good teacher can engage a classroom without using a lot of bells and whistles in the form of technology and visual aids. But a master teacher can walk into a room with nothing and leave students fascinated and full of introspection. Kaylie Jones did exactly that at HippoCamp. Armed with nothing more than a few books, she managed to foster one of the most interesting sessions of the weekend.