Memoir Writing Resources

Learn tips and tricks from accomplished memoirists about how to write your own memoir!

It is important to claim your story, own it, and tell it how you want to tell it. Memoir writing can be hard though, so we’ve compiled a list of past and upcoming programs, podcasts, and blogs with writers who have written memoirs. Discover how to write a memoir, what to do when you’re stuck, and other advice for writing a memoir. Writing a memoir is about telling your own story, but you don’t have to do it alone…the writers in the American Writers Museum can inspire you!


Upcoming Memoir Writing Events

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Explore Exhibits

Museum visitor engages with hands on interactive in the AWM's special exhibit "Dark Testament: A Century of Black Writers on Justice"

Dark Testament: A Century of Black Writers on Justice

Our current special exhibit, on display now, honors the significant impact of Black writers by examining the work of Black American writers from the end of the Civil War through the Civil Rights Movement. During this time, slave narratives emerged as a fascinating political tool that allowed many people to give voice to the struggles of enslaved people to white audiences. Visit the exhibit to dive into iconic slave narratives by Harriet Jacobs, Booker T. Washington, and more. Plan your visit today!

Classroom resources are available to download as well.

Pauli Murray: Survival With Dignity

Pauli Murray: Survival With Dignity

Pauli Murray was a poet, a lawyer, a priest, a freight hopper, Eleanor Roosevelt’s friend, arrested for refusing to comply with bus segregation laws, a closeted member of the LBGTQ+ community, a professor, and so much more. They also wrote two memoirs: a family history titled Proud Shoes and a more traditional memoir titled Song in a Weary Throat. Dive into the online exhibit to learn more about Murray’s life and work, and be sure to explore the interactive map that highlights important events in their life and career.

Classroom resources are available to download as well.

My America: Immigrant and Refugee Writers Today

My America: Immigrant & Refugee Writers Today

Explore our temporary exhibit, now available in its entirety online, to see how immigrant and refugee writers have written memoirs to not only share their stories and represent their homes and people, but also to better understand their journeys and find community. Discover the role writing—and memoir writing in particular—has played a role in the lives of some of the featured writers as they navigate themes of home, community, language, and more. Plus many more stories and truths from writers across genres!

Classroom resources are available to download as well.

Watch contemporary writers, scholars, and activists read Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave in its entirety. Douglass’s memoir is read by Jacqueline Woodson, Mikki Kendall, Henry Louis Gates Jr., and more.

Advice for Writing a Memoir on AWM Author Talks

Throughout the years we’ve hosted many memoirists for public programs, as well as writers who typically work in other genres but who wrote their own memoir. Check out some of our favorite episodes below, and stream all AWM Author Talks episodes here.

Photo of Saeed Jones and book cover of How We Fight for Our Lives

Saeed Jones
How We Fight for Our Lives

“If America was going to hate me for being Black and gay, then I might as well make a weapon out of myself [with writing].”

Natasha Trethewey
Memorial Drive

“This is the situation I was in: a difficult childhood, a tragic loss when I was nineteen. That was the situation, but it took a very long time to figure out what story I had to tell.”

Keah Brown
The Pretty One

“In writing this book it was…a way for me to teach people about the identity of disability and what it’s like to live in my own disabled body and help change the perceptions that people have about disability.”

Photo of Gary Paulsen and book cover of Gone to the Woods

Gary Paulsen
Gone to the Woods

“The reason [my memoir] is third person…I thought by getting detached a little bit I could have more clarity. And it worked.”

Photo of Maya Angelou with quote of hers that reads, "When I am writing, I am trying to find out who I am, who we are, what we're capable of, how we feel, how we lose and stand up, and go on from darkness into darkness. I'm trying for that."

Learn how to write a memoir from greats of the past on these episodes of Nation of Writers

  • Maya Angelou: Before becoming a writer, Angelou worked many odd jobs, including as a fry cook, sex worker, nightclub performer, and actress. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, which tells some of those stories, brought her international recognition.
  • Reinaldo Arenas: Due to his open homosexuality and anti-Castro themes in his writing, Arenas was exiled from Cuba and escaped to the U.S. in 1980. Sadly, he became a victim of the AIDS epidemic, contracting the disease and ultimately ending his life after finishing his memoir Before Night Falls.
  • Anthony Bourdain: Perhaps best known for his work in television, Bourdain flipped the restaurant industry on its head in 2000 with the publication of his searing, no-holds-barred memoir Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly.

Stream all episodes of Nation of Writers here.

Memoir Writing Tips and Tricks from the American Writers Festival

Watch these videos recorded live at the American Writers Festival for insights into memoir writing, as well as what to do when you feel stuck or the memories are too painful to engage with.

In her memoir Somebody’s Daughter, Ashley C. Ford steps into the world of growing up a poor Black girl in Indiana with a family fragmented by incarceration, exploring how isolating and complex such a childhood can be.

Will Jawando discusses his book My Seven Black Fathers: A Young Activist’s Memoir of Race, Family, and the Mentors Who Made Him Whole, a deeply affirmative story of hope and respect for men of color at a time when Black men are routinely stigmatized.

Blogs by writers about the memoir writing process and journey

Check out some Q&As and op-eds from memoir writers we have worked with in the past, and access all of our blogs here.

Photo of Tim' O'Brien and book cover of Dad's Maybe Book

Tim O’Brien
Dad’s Maybe Book

“I needed to do something with the pain, I needed to put it somewhere…A couple years later I had my first book which is a war memoir, three-quarters of which was written without the intent of writing a book. It was written mostly for me.”

Julissa Arce
Someone Like Me

“As a writer, I am constantly asked to make my stories more relevant, but relevant to whom? To make them less angry, but it’s not anger that is etched on my words, it is truth…But all I want to do is write stories that make sense to other people like me.”

Photo of Elliot Ackerman and book cover of Places and Names

Elliot Ackerman
Places and Names

“When I’m writing, if it’s going well, I am feeling something as I put the story on the page. And if you, as a reader,…feel what I felt despite the fact we’ve never met, despite our differences, this act is an assertion of our shared humanity.”

Rebecca Deng
What They Meant for Evil

“Writing was really healing for me in a way because I was writing and had to think deeply and it took me to memories that I didn’t want to go to. A couple of times I would cry but then keep writing. And the whole process now that I look back was so healing.”