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Memoir: How I Read, Write and Use It by Helen Epstein (3,400 words)

This is an essay for students of memoir. Making meaning in writing memoir is similar to creating narrative in psychotherapy. What differentiates memoir from that work is the public nature of the literary product, its aim to document fact, elucidate memory, separate it from fantasy as far as possible and render lived rather than imagined experience. In addition to literary and healing qualities, memoirs serve a crucial historical role. As the Polish poet and memoirist Czeslaw Milosz writes: "Unless we can relate it to ourselves personally, history will always be more or less of an abstraction... every family archive that perishes, ever account book that is burnt, reinforces classifications and ideas at the expense of reality..."