Memoir or Biomythography?

This is my last blog post in the month of February. I’ve been posting what I’ve learned from the memoirs I’ve read for two months now, and I still have plenty of books to cover.

I want to talk to you about other subjects, too, but I’m reluctant to ignore the rest of my memoir books. So I think I’ve worked out a compromise. I’ll try posting about a memoir once a week, and that way I will gradually work my way through them. It’s not only fun to share the books, but writing these posts reminds me of what I learned about each book, which is such a good review for me.

Then I can write about other things in my other posts–yay!

Today’s memoir is poet Audre Lorde’s Zami: A New Spelling of My Name. On the cover it calls itself a BIOMYTHOGRAPHY.

So I didn’t think of it as a memoir when I read it in grad school. I was immersing myself in the work of Lorde for a possible chapter in my dissertation. Unfortunately, Lorde passed away of cancer while I was in grad school. She was 58 years old, the same age I am now. This chapter never got finished, although my dissertation did.

On a related note, here is my favorite Lorde poem, “Coal.”

Anyway, back to how Lorde wanted to think of this book–as a biomythography. In it she writes about her origins, as a Caribbean child growing up lesbian in Harlem, and she writes about some of the women she loved in her life. She tried to create a new literary genre, by combining a personal mythology with biographical events, but it reads to me as an experimental memoir.

Does that word experimental annoy you or turn you off? It does me. But this is a beautiful book.

In its play with language and boundaries, the book is representative of feminist texts of the early 90s. You won’t notice that so much as you will fall into Lorde’s world and find out what it was like to be an African-American lesbian poet of her time period. That’s what I learned from Lorde’s book.


Filed under Book Review, Books, Creative Nonfiction, Essay, Memoir, Nonfiction, Research and prep for writing, Writing

21 responses to “Memoir or Biomythography?

  1. Wow, February sure went by fast. I’ve enjoyed your series on memoirs, Luanne and I’m happy to hear you’re going to continue with a post a week.

    • Luanne

      February went by fast for me, too, although it’s been a struggle because of having too much work at work (funny annoyance, that!). I can’t see quitting with so many books I haven’t mentioned yet! Thank you, Jill, for your loyalty and your friendship!

  2. This makes me recall that I saw Norman Mailer and Audre Lorde installed as New York State Author and Poet, respectively, in 1991.There was a huge crowd in the Egg in Albany for this event. Lorde was quite frail and died in 1992 of liver cancer. William Kennedy, who founded the institute, was also fighting cancer at the time, but he’s still alive and in his mid-80s now.

    • Luanne

      WJ, I actually remember that! I remember you talking about Mailer and of course it was so exciting for me because of Lorde!

  3. Please don’t ignore them! I have read Poster Child and now the Zippy one based on your reviews. I love them!

  4. Luanne, I’ve enjoyed your reviews on various memoirs. They ask different questions and pose insights on books I might not ordinarily consider.

  5. Ellen Morris Prewitt

    I love the idea of a “biomythography,” I’m sure because so much of my family history has been mythologized. Thanks so much for telling us about this one—I’m gonna look it up.

  6. Biomythography – I LOVE it. All family history gets mythologized to some degree, I think, especially if you don’t have a lot of original source material to write an actual biography. Such a clever idea.

    I’ve loved this series of posts, too, and learned much from you, as always, Luanne.

  7. I am loving your memoir reviews. I always wondered if I wrote one, who would want to read it. I am fascinated by this women and the story you tell of her.

  8. Wow, you’ve sent me back in time with this post, Luanne! I attended San Francisco State University in 1988-1990 and took a couple of feminist/women’s studies classes. Of course, Audre Lorde was part of the curriculum. That was a very special time for me.

    • Luanne

      Those were the days, weren’t they?! I wrote some lit crit papers during that period that were great fun because they were feminist and loosely constructed, not the standard boring stuff. And I loved reading all the great female voices.

  9. Thanks for this information. I’m working on a project now, and reading a “biomythography” might be helpful.

  10. You made up an entirely new category! Sounds interesting and I admire your looking into all of these. Your sharing the reviews really helps me to know what you are up to! Smiles, Robin

    • I agree, with you about experimental memoir, since a feminist movement awhile back, taught us that acceptance and courage are not ‘experimental’ but part of being brave enough to be different! Good way to get me thinking, Luanne!

  11. Thanks, I’m going to check out the Lorde poem, Coal now!

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