Memory and Story: An IFN Discussion

Quote of the Day: Authors do not supply imagination, they expect their readers to have their own and use it. 

— Nella Larsen, American novelist of the Harlem Renaissance.

Memoirs and personal essays offer storytelling venues that allow readers into a writer’s unique world—in ways no other genre can provide.

Philip Gerard’s book, Creative Nonfiction: Researching and Crafting Stories of Real Life, emphasizes the courage required to do so in his chapter titled: “Putting Yourself On the Line.”

“We always write after mystery, looking for an answer we don’t have, trying to resolve what troubles us, to understand what seems beyond comprehension.”

That search for answers can lead us to write about the death of a moth on a windowsill (Virginia Woolf)* or a man’s ethereal suffering during a hunger strike (Wole Soyinka)*. What other advice or thoughts does Gerard offer about the form, in terms of exploring the freedom of your own voice; avoiding the boorishness of the ego; zeroing in on a given memory; or writing about family and friends.

Another author we’ve read, William Zinsser, meanwhile, describes the memoir form in his succinct, direct style: “What gives [memoirs] their power is the narrowness of their focus. . . Think narrow, then, when you try the form. Memoir isn’t the summary of a life; it’s a window into a life, very much like a photograph.”

See also, snippet from this chapter, noted by Bea: (

What is the essence of memory? How do memories take the form of stories you tell other people?

Feel free to comment or answer these prompts, or add any other thoughts or questions you might have on “Putting Yourself on The Line” or related readings on memoir, plot, etc. (which we’ll delve into later as well. Good to get a handle on plot as we look for stories). Please be sure to note at least your first name when first commenting.

Cheers, JCS

See also: “The Death of The Moth,” by Virginia Woolf via Google  &

Or Wole Soyinka’s “Why I Fast,” in the collection Art of the Personal Essay. Online via Google Books.

(Links too long to paste. 🙂 )

March for Science

Here is a chant already underway for Saturday’s March For Science, a protest in D.C. and nationwide against the anti-science policies of the Trump Administration:

“What do we want???  Evidence-based science!!”

“When do we want it?? After Peer Review!!!!”

Even with the future of humankind and the Earth in the balance, scientists demonstrate their sense of humor too.

Francis Bacon Fellowship Speaker Series

The Spring 2016 Francis Bacon Fellowship presents bestselling authors Dr. Mario Livio and Dr. Kay Redfield Jamison

FREE / No registration required

Saturday, April 16

Dr. Mario Livio, astrophysicist, scientist essayist, author Brilliant Blunders: From Darwin to Einstein — Colossal Mistakes by Great Scientists that Changed Our Understanding of Life and the Universe

Lecture and Q & A

When: 6:30 p.m. Reception

7. p.m. Lecture

Where: Hodson Hall 210, Homewood campus, 3400 N. Charles Street, Baltimore, MD 21218

Funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Arts Innovation Grant

For detailed info see the Greater Baltimore Cultural Alliance’s Culture Fly site


Saturday April 23

Dr. Kay Redfield Jamison, renowned author and professor of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions. Author of the best-selling memoir An Unquiet Mind, as well as many other books, including Exuberance, and Touched with Fire, now the inspiration for a major motion picture.

Reading and Q & A


When: 6:30 p.m. Reception

7. p.m. Reading

Where: Hodson Hall 210, Homewood campus, 3400 N. Charles Street, Baltimore, MD 21218

Funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Arts Innovation Grant

For more details: see GBCA’s Culture Fly


The Hub at Hopkins

Joanne Cavanaugh Simpson, Lecturer, The Writing Seminars, Johns Hopkins University,

Dr. Jocelyne DiRugierro, Associate Professor of Biology, Johns Hopkins






Attention: Hopkins Science Majors Who Get the Lit

Announcing the Francis Bacon Fellowship

Scientist Essayists: The Next Generation

I do now publish my essays, which, of all my other work, have been most current. For that, as it seems, they come home. –Sir Francis Bacon (1561-1626)

Sir Francis Bacon—father of empiricism—welcomed the scientific revolution. Bacon also launched a modern tradition of scientists and physicians who eloquently frame questions sparked via their studies. Via the personal essay, these thinkers examine the universe, the Earth, or the living cell.

A select group of undergraduate fellows will attend a four-part Saturday seminar series in April 2016.

The goals:

● Learn the stylistic techniques of the essay form via workshop review, revision and feedback from professors and visiting writers.

● Create a polished essay to submit for publication.

Fellowship grants (ranging from $100 to $400) awarded based on merit.

● Earn a writing-intensive 1 credit in Independent Study.

● Evening events, open to the Hopkins community and public, will feature prominent scientist essayists for Readings and Discussion.

Francis Bacon Fellows will be selected from undergraduate science and engineering majors (including dual writing majors) who demonstrate excellence in writing—an eye for clarity, an ear for language. Peruse the work of biologist Lewis Thomas, surgeon Atul Gawande, astrophysicist Mario Livio, or psychologist Kay Redfield Jamison.

To apply:  Submit 1) a writing sample, such as a short science-oriented personal essay (< 700 words),  as well as 2) a brief statement of purpose (< 300 words) re: why you should be chosen, passion for your field, future interest in writing, etc. to Writing Seminars Lecturer Joanne Cavanaugh Simpson, Please send as Word attachments and copied into the email.

Faculty affiliate: Johns Hopkins Associate Research Professor Biology, Jocelyne DiRuggiero

Funded by an Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Arts Innovation Grant