Minnesota Historical Society

Tell Me True: Memoir, History, and Writing a Life

$ 18.95

Fourteen accomplished writers investigate the tantalizing gray area where memory and history intersect.

“The memoir has been, on the one hand, a startling success story in American publishing in the past quarter century. But it has also been literature’s changeling, the bad apple, ever suspect, slightly illegitimate, a brassy parvenu talking too much about itself.”—Patricia Hampl, “You’re History”

Balancing precariously between history and literature, memoir writers have finally found their place on the bookshelf. But increased notoriety brings intense scrutiny: memoirists are expected to create a narrative worthy of fiction while also saying true to the facts. Historians, too, handle tricky issues of writing from “real life,” when imagination must fill gaps in the historical record.

In this landmark collection, Patricia Hampl and Elaine Tyler May have gathered fourteen original essays from award-winning memoirists and historians. They are all storytellers, wrestling with a fascinating gray area where memory intersects with history and where the necessities of narrative collide with mundane facts. And whether the record emerges from archival sources or from personal memory, these writers show how to make the leap to telling a good story, while also telling us true.

  • By: Edited by Patricia Hampl and Elaine Tyler May
  • Format: Paperback book, 224 pages, 5.5x8.5
  • Publisher: MNHS Press (January 2011)
  • Product ##: 9780873518154


Praise for Tell Me True

"The essays recount the contributors' experiences formulating and writing a memoir as well as their views on memoirs and how they fit into the world of nonfiction. The extracts and essays are equally fascinating, providing an inward look at the authors in addition to a small sampling of their work." Library Journal


"Reading each of these superb and provocative essays, readers understand history in the memoir and memoir in the history. What all the writers recognize is that they and their disciplines all deal with the vagaries of memory and how humans construct meaning in the present through memory, however expressed. A superb book. Highly recommended." CHOICE


“The memoir is based on a deceptively simple foundation: Tell what you know. As we learn from these thought-provoking essays, both the telling and the knowing turn out to be far more complicated—and far more interesting—than one might suspect.”
Anne Fadiman, author of Ex Libris and At Large and At Small


Tell Me True is a fresh and lively exploration of that vexed territory where memoir and history meet, argue, meld and blur, each enriching and complicating the other.”
Mark Doty, author of Dog Years: A Memoir

“These lively, exceptionally well-written essays provide an insider’s view of the art of memoir, engaging the big questions of time and meaning, self and community, that are posed by any life. As they explore the intersection of personal history with the larger story we call history, these writers celebrate memoir’s power to testify to the truth of our experience.”
Paul John Eakin, author of Living Autobiographically: How We Create Identity in Narrative

Contributors: André Aciman, Matt Becker, June Cross, Helen Epstein, Carlos Eire, Samuel G. Freedman, Patricia Hampl, Fenton Johnson, Alice Kaplan, Annette Kobak, Michael MacDonald, Elaine Tyler May, Cheri Register, D. J. Waldie.

Patricia Hampl is the author of three memoirs, including most recently The Florist’s Daughter, as well as other books of literary nonfiction and poetry.Elaine Tyler May has written several books on twentieth-century American history. Both are Regents Professors at the University of Minnesota.





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