From Personal Narrative to Public Issues

Moderators: Ruth Elcan and Joan Laird
Role of participants: Seminar members will make a 20-25 minute presentation and lead a discussion either on literary aspects of one of the assigned memoirs or on one or more of the public issues an assigned memoir raises.
Number of participants (including the moderators): 16
Time: Wednesdays, 10:00 am–noon
Place: Amherst Woman’s Club, 35 Triangle Street, Amherst
Parking: Ample parking on site

Some memoirs more than others take us from the personal to the social. We will read six memoirs that challenge us to consider and debate a range of important, contemporary social issues.

Meline Toumani begins to question the lingering hatred of Turks permeating her Armenian family and community 100 years after the Armenian genocide in There Was and There Was Not. Jennifer Finney Boylan in She’s Not There describes the changes in her body and in her relationships as she transitions from male to female.  And Roz Chast gives us Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?, a graphic memoir describing her often sad, sometimes maddening, and sometimes comical experience of her parents’ aging and dying. John Muir’s My First Summer in the Sierra leads us to the current debate among environmentalists over the relevance of his legacy.  Nathan McCall’s Makes Me Wanna Holler recounts a young black man’s experiences of racism, rage, violence, imprisonment, and, eventually, a career in journalism.  And Martha Beck in Leaving the Saints reminisces about her life growing up in and ultimately separating from her traditional Mormon family.

We will spend one or two sessions on each memoir and on related current topics as defined by members for their presentations.

Format: Seminar

Resources: Everyone will read the six memoirs described above, no particular edition. Moderators will suggest possible background reading for particular presentations.

The Moderators: Ruth Elcan taught literature and writing (including autobiographical writing) for many years and Joan Laird taught courses on the family and on social and cultural issues.

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