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AvantGuild: Memoir Isn’t Just Writing About Yourself

Walter Kirn gives members the inside story on expanding an essay he wrote for The Atlantic in Lost in the Meritocracy, a memoir of his “undereducation of an overachiever,” in the latest installment of the “Hey, How’d You…?” series. “After I wrote the essay, I had a sizable response in the letters of personal outpourings,” he recalls. “Everyone, it seemed, had been less happy than they were supposed to be and less well educated than they were pretending to be.” So he set out to write something bigger, but realized that all those experiences he had weren’t enough in and of themselves: “You think when you sit down to write a memoir that you have a story to tell because you have yourself and what happened to you, but that doesn’t make a character in a story… You can’t just record a sequence of events and have a narrative,” he explains. “The conventions of storytelling are even more important when you’re telling a real story than when you’re telling a made-up one.”

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