Memoir vs Autobiography


Adopted CS Cover.inddI recently wrote a memoir. A family member asked me, “Why wasn’t so-and-so mentioned in your book?”

“I didn’t include many special people, interesting places, and events of my life in the work, mainly because I wrote a memoir, not an autobiography.” I said.

“What’s the difference? I’m not sure I know. Isn’t a memoir supposed to be about all that you remember in your life?” he said.

That’s when I gave a brief comparison as I understood the differences.

“To me, a memoir presents slices of memory around a theme. The theme I chose was my adoption and healing love. The memoir began simply as a journaling of the various encounters I had as an adoptee with the love that finally healed my life and my wounded heart. Much of what I wrote when I started out was for my own personal reflection and not intended for publication. Only later did I see the theme emerge.

An autobiography, on the other hand, is a full, comprehensive accounting of everything in the life of the person writing. The autobiography organizes itself chronologically. The memoir or personal narrative, may meander through various memories and snatches of experiences surrounding the developing theme. Is that explanation helpful?”

“I think you should share that in an Introduction or Preface then.” he said.

“Perhaps a blog post will do. On behalf of my readers, I was trying to be brief and focused.” My family member seemed satisfied.

This is the simplified explanation of how I envisioned and wrote my recent book entitled, Adopted: An Adoptee’s Memoir of Healing Love. I hope I clarified the distinction enough to not be held guilty of leaving out him and others I love and value.

QUESTION: Is the explanation I gave clear and accurate as you think about the differences?

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One response

  1. It seems to me that both memoirs and autobiographies are filled with whatever memories the author sees fit to share with the reader. It’s no one’s business other than the writer’s as to who is or isn’t included. Of greater interest, in theory at least, is how self-aware and honest the author is or isn’t in such cases.

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