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Crisis memoir

Pronounced /ˈkraɪsɪs ˈmɛmwɑː/Help with pronunciation

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

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Copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
Page created 18 Jul. 1998

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The English language is forever changing. New words appear; old ones fall out of use or alter their meanings. World Wide Words tries to record at least a part of this shifting wordscape by featuring new words, word histories, words in the news, and the curiosities of native English speech.

World Wide Words is copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
This page URL: http://www.worldwidewords.org/turnsofphrase/tp-cri1.htm
Last modified: 18 July 1998.