Margaret Atwood said in a 1995 lecture; “If you write a work of fiction, everyone assumes that the people and events in it are disguised biography — but if you write your biography, it’s equally assumed you’re lying your head off.” At the risk of being accused of one or the other I’ve written two memoirs, The Queen of Peace Room in 2002 and Street Angel, released in 2014. Memoir is what I know best. A childhood in Newfoundland, Canada. The Catholic Church and its violent nuns in the 50s. Marching for peace in New York in the 60s. Underground theater. AIDS in the 80s. Children, politics, art and peace and war. In my lifetime there has never been peace.
There’s a terrible risk with life-writing. A gamble. Hoping no one is wounded. Hoping no one attacks you for writing the world as you’ve lived it. Frank McCourt said that after he published Angela’s Ashes, his memoir of life growing up in Ireland, the people in Limerick hated him. They called him a liar. They said it never happened that way. But it did. To McCourt. And he took the risk with his story. This week, Street Angel received a review that a writer can only pray for. At Coastal Spectator. And from a reviewer I’ve never met once in my life. Never once shared a word with. The reviewer understood every word that I’d written. Understood every aspect of my life as described in the book. That’s what a writer of memoir strives for while unravelling events and highlights from decades of living, and how you fit in with all the facts of your life. That’s the review Street Angel was blessed with this week. A reviewer said “I believe you,” and then eloquently and passionately explained why. That’s what it’s like to be a writer of memoir – hoping someone will say “I believe you. And not only that – you did well.”