The Memoir Salon
Last night I attended the inaugural Memoir Salon, hosted and dreamt up by Josiane Behmoiras. Traditionally a salon is a gathering of people meeting to discuss ideas as a form of both education and entertainment. Salon hosts – or more often, hostesses – chose the company carefully for both compatibility and contrasting opinions, intellectual breadth, wit and charm. The salons of eighteenth century France were enabled aristocratic women to continue their education informally across a diverse range of subjects – current affairs, politics, philosophy, literature and – of course – the scandals of the day.
Josiane Behmorias isn’t aiming to become an eighteenth century salonnière – but she has cleverly constructed a forum for discussing memoir which echoes some of the enticements of the traditional salon. Participants are encouraged to mingle and chat – and to promote discussion she handed out cards with a quotation or question about memoir. Each month there’s a guest speaker who explores a question raised by memoir writing. And there’s a workshopping opportunity offered at the end of the session. There’s also wine on sale – brought to the Salon by the Moat – an essential refreshment, I feel, for the weight topic of memoir!
The inaugural session I attended on Wednesday (the Memoir Salon are being held on the first Wednedsay of every month at the Wheeler Centre) featured Leah Kaminsky. Kaminsky is an engaging speaker whose topic was ‘genre fluidity’. This particularly interested me as I’m fictionalising family history for my next writing project. I’m also interested in at as a reader – the recent poems of W. S. Merwin, for example, return to his childhood experiences and I find them very moving.
Leah Kaminsky is a poet, novelist and creative non-fiction writer whose work is very much informed by her own experiences. Her latest publication, We’re All Going to Die, HarperCollins, 2016 looks at the reality of death – a reality that Kaminsky, as a practising G.P. is confronted with on a daily basis. Although the book is more correctly categorised as creative non-fiction, it didn’t come together until Kaminsky wove her own story through the stories of others she interviewed.
One of the interesting things she talked about what her trust in the process of writing – even in her own tendency to procrastination. She also discussed the framing of memoir, most particularly essays and how this framing can work to order a piece of memoir.
After Kaminsky’s talk, two audience members read from drafts of their own memoirs. The audience was then divided into two groups and we quickly – but respectfully – workshopped one of the pieces. At the end of the evening over half the participants reconvened at The Moat to keep talking about their writing, lives and other interests. This was very heart-warming, as so often, people disappear into the city night and you wish you’d been able to catch someone’s name, find what they do in their ‘other’ life, or simply continue a conversation already started.
Like all inaugural events, there’s room to improve the Memoir Salon. The time management could have been tighter and I also felt the focus should have been more strictly maintained. Personally, I’d like to see the initial discussion fuelled by a writing exercise – there’s a possibility that could be shared with your neighbour – either before or after the guest speaker. This would mean that even those participants unwilling to be workshopped, would have a chance to actually do something.
I walked away from the evening excited by the different elements that could be introduced to this idea of a ‘salon’ – a book club section which needn’t be restricted to memoir, but could focus on books about writing memoir, a craft section on different memoir techniques, a five minute reading which introduced participants to past and present memoirs…the opportunities are fabulous!
In the meantime, gold star to Josiane Behmorias for opening up these possibilities and an ongoing conversation about life writing in such a splendidly innovative way! Next month The Memoir Salon features Lee Kofman who will talk about emotional truth. I wish I could be there – but I’ll be returning that day from nearly three weeks working at the Literature Centre in Fremantle!