AWP 2014: Full Disclosure from The Sun

Posted on 22 March 2014

The first thing you should know about The Sun’s AWP panel, “Full Disclosure: How to Spill Your Guts without Making a Mess,” is that nearly every panelist took issue with the session’s title. According to moderator Krista Bremer, “Full disclosure is not a memoir’s job. It’s not an autobiography, nor is it about spilling your guts. That’s what belongs in your diary.”

Bremer and the other panelists – Lidia Yuknavitch, Cary Tennis, Marion Winik, and The Sun editor and publisher Sy Safransky – discussed the ethics of nonfiction, truth, memory, making readers uncomfortable, and more. Here’s a quick look at what some of these panelists had to say:

Krista Bremer:

“Memoir is about speaking the plain/obvious truths we avoid speaking to protect ourselves.”

“Your work, if worthy, will have consequences.”

“[Memoirists need] a large, large dose of humility, to understand the fallibility of memory, and to be humble about how ego creeps in.”

“Always be harder on yourself [in your writing] than others.”

“A memoir is situation plus story. Story is what you have come to say about the living. It’s not enough to have lived.”

“We’re afraid to show our weaknesses, but our weaknesses are a great conduit to building connections [with readers].”

“Writing your memoir hardens your past. . . This process puts a stop to a fluid thing and makes a hard thing.”

Lidia Yuknavitch:

“Writing The Chronology of Water nearly killed me. That’s not hyperbole. But it also brought me back to life.”

“There are modes of fiction in nonfiction writing, and modes of imagination in memory . . . the artful lie is a space of creativity.”

Lidia also offered four tips for aspiring memoirists:

  1. There’s no such thing as “memoir.” Instead, it’s “wemoir,” the story of all of us together trying to survive life. Once a writer realizes this, the “me-ness” of a memoir will start to fall away. Find the place where your story hits other people.
  2. Sometimes the solution lies in form, not content. Art and the form of telling are as important as conflict in memoir.
  3. Render pathos differently. We are saturated through media with pathos. We’re trained to hit highest form of pathos in 45 minutes. In an essay, this level of pathos might feel too heavy. Redistribute it.
  4. Quit thinking about “the truth.” Memory itself is a lie. Memory does not work in a linear form. No single one truth is available to us. Shoot for authenticity of the experience.
  5. De-ego yourself. Your ego is not your friend. It’s in your way. You’re writing to bridge yourself to others, not highlight yourself.

Marion Winik: 

“Memoir is an underground railroad of what people are really going through.”

“There’s no objective TMI [in memoir]; it’s who’s hearing it. To some it’s egregious while others need to hear it.”

“Everyone’s going to find the thing that grosses them out. There’s something that grosses you out and something you desperately need to hear.”

Sy Syfransky:

“Don’t try to publish something too soon. At least in the old days, you had to walk to the post office. It’s important to write something when you need to write it. Then wait – maybe a day, maybe a year [before submitting].”
“It’s my strong belief that if someone does not have a strong allegiance to the facts, fiction is available to them.”

“We usually know when we’re writing something a bit unreliable.”

“Reality is bigger than all of our stories about it.”

“Oscar Wilde said, ‘Only the shallow know themselves.’”

Finally, Cary Tennis described the act of writing (or trying to write) creative nonfiction as “the never-ending chores of the moral imagination.”

Is reality bigger than your story? Are you spilling your guts and making a mess? How’s your moral imagination chore list coming along? Do I win the award for latest AWP recap?

Photo: David Bruce

3 responses to AWP 2014: Full Disclosure from The Sun

  • Averil says:

    “It’s my strong belief that if someone does not have a strong allegiance to the facts, fiction is available to them.”

    The fiction writer in me rejoices. I can’t just write the facts, I don’t have the courage or the moral resources. But I’m very grateful to the writers who do.

  • Teri says:

    This was, by far, my favorite panel at the conference. Thanks for the great notes!!

  • I don’t care. It was worth the wait.

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