Tag Archives: JoAnn Beard

The Right Place at the Wrong Time

I’ve mentioned a few times that I’ve taken quite a few memoir-writing courses. In five or six courses, the instructors assigned “The Fourth State of Matter,” an essay from JoAnn Beard’s memoir The Boys of My Youth. I had to read it over and over. But there’s a reason why so many instructors assign it. Wow, what a piece of creative nonfiction! I’ve written about it in a previous post. What occurs in the story is what happens when Beard was in the right place at the wrong time.

I’m not trying to be cryptic or coy. It’s best to let the essay speak for itself and take you by surprise.

This book is actually a collection of essays, but I call it a memoir because the essays are memoir pieces loosely placed together. Oddly, the effect is that of a more traditional memoir, although the book does not give the impression of one complete story.



From this book I learned that memoir can be shaped the way the story needs to be told, rather than following a predetermined format. A memoir can be a story collection. By constructing a book out of publishable essays, a writer can send her pieces out without waiting for the entire book to be complete.

From “The Fourth State of Matter,” the stunning essay at the heart of the book, I learned that several story threads can be woven together to create a rich tapestry. If you write creative nonfiction, be sure to read this essay!


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