Guest Editor’s Note: Memoirs 2020

Setu Special, September 2020


Years back as a graduate student of Creative Nonfiction writing at the University of Nebraska, USA, I had been deeply intrigued by a short, succinct description of memoir writing where an author, critic had commented: “The memory of our lives could be called its own bit of creative nonfiction.” It was during those days when I discovered a gem of a book/anthology of memoirs/essays, ‘Tell It Slant’, edited by Brenda Miller and Suzanne Paola, two modernist/contemporary American essayists, which I still refer to, where they elucidate in great details how and why personal stories, essays and narrative nonfiction have great resonance as a deeply reflective, meditative genre of literature. They also illustrate how the act of writing about one’s own life experiences in terms of one’s family and immediate surroundings gives essays and narrative nonfiction that profound beauty, power and aura it has been characterized with, for years now.  
While the adult self assimilates into the external world with disparate individuals, cultures and experiences, the immediate family still remains at the core of his/her values/impulses, they still remain “the first objects of love, anger and loyalty”. Hence, it becomes a complex, nuanced journey, with the marriage of memory and imagination, with the amalgamation of the familial world, the microcosm and the greater universe, the macrocosm. 
 I forayed into this genre of memoir/narrative nonfiction, also being a poet and fiction writer striving to delve into the mysteries of human psyche in my own small way. Along the way, this quest of finding myself and my persona in close connection to the private, personal as well as the universal assumed newer shades and nuances, while my book ‘Thwarted Escape: An Immigrant’s Wayward Journey’ was born and read by many readers. In all these years in between, I have asked myself these pertinent questions, which, to me, sums up the essence of memoir and personal essays. 
‘How can one seek meaning and resonance in his/her memories while crafting them into compelling stories that bring structure, coherence? 
How can we narrate the details of our experiences cogently, powerfully, while writing about our life stories, and the physical world around us? 
How can we write personal stories as a cathartic act as well as a piece of art?’  
When Dr. Sunil Sharma, editor-in-chief of Setu asked me to guest-edit this special edition of the journal focusing on memoir writing, these questions knocked my door yet again, and it was my quest to find answers to these which was at the heart of the submission call that I shared with my writing circle friends. 
Writing and publishing memoirs and narrative nonfiction in the Indian subcontinent, or even amid Indian Diaspora writers, I have known or heard, is a relatively secondary genre in literature, compared to fiction, drama and poetry, in terms of their mass popularity. However, during the entire month of September, the huge outpouring of submissions of personal essays, memoir, travel stories and exquisitely personal narratives, mostly by south Asian/Indian Diaspora writers for this special issue of Setu not only overwhelmed me, but also stoked my curiosity as I think I have found some answers to my afore-mentioned questions while reading each individual essay/memoir, and internalizing its significance in a postmodern world ravaged by COVID-19 and numerous existential questions of humanity. These are the diverse voices of writers, poets, artists, sojourners, educators, exemplary social innovators, and explorers of life’s myriad histories, secrets and experiences who unfold their personal journeys, while evoking universal emotions, impulses and a collective consciousness of being, of belonging. Some memoirs intersperse poetry within the framework of the narrative, and it flows seamlessly, like rivers and brooks melting into the mammoth ocean of creative, intimate expressions. The two essays of Kelli J Gavin, the American author and blogger born and raised in Minnesota traces a topography of her fine, nuanced mind absorbing the potency of her parents’ words and their legacy, and also depicting people and places around her with her unique artistic vision, her crisp prose. 
All good memoirs and nonfiction work begin with the writer’s impulse to tell a true story with honesty, passion and urgency. And yes, this comes from the depth of life itself, life as a metaphor for exploring memories, complex human questions, life as a metaphor for revealing truths beyond the literal. The personal narrative pieces in this issue come in various avatars, covering multiple themes, ranging from travel essays to lockdown stories, from haunting family truths to humorous tales of cooking and discovering books, childhood and the mystic truths of our daily paraphernalia. In the same vein, there is a special category for excerpts from book-length memoirs, in which the authors present little universes of their tryst with their childhood memories, familial life while also playing with their language of memory, while depicting emotionally impactful details, which we have known as ‘the moments of being’ in Creative Nonfiction writing. All the more special to me is a daughter’s lovingly written review of her academician father’s memoir which was published years back, in which she also meanders through the various vicissitudes of his life, his accomplishments. All in all, this first-of-its-kind issue of Setu focusing on the art of memoir writing is a bouquet, a veritable assortment of nonfiction writing in which emotional truths matter as much as self-interrogation and exploring not chronological, but metaphorical truths. 
I hope the diverse, refreshing voices of these writers unfolding their personal journeys will resonate with readers, whether or not they admire memoirs/essays as a genre, precisely because these writers haven’t necessarily utilized form/structure of narrative nonfiction as a conscious exercise. I believe their narrative voices, in all their spontaneity, reinterprets truths, perspectives which are at once personal and universal, sincere and redeeming. 

Lopa Banerjee
Lopa Banerjee
Guest-Editor 
Setu, September 2020 issue   

Bio: Lopamudra Banerjee is an author, poet, translator, editor with six books and four anthologies in fiction and poetry. She lives in Dallas, Texas with her family where she also teaches Creative Writing at Richland College and Texas Christian University. She has been a recipient of the Journey Awards (First Place category winner) for her memoir ‘Thwarted Escape: An Immigrant’s Wayward Journey’, and also a recipient of the Woman Achiever Award (IWSFF, 2018), the International Reuel Prize for Poetry (2017) and International Reuel Prize for her English translation of Nobel Laureate Tagore’s selected works of fiction (2016). Her nonfiction essays, fiction and other writings have been published in various journals, e-zines and anthologies in India, UK and USA. She is also a consulting editor of the literary e-zine ‘Learning and Creativity’, India. Recently, she has been an honorary poetry fellow at Rice University, Houston and co-produced the poetry film 'Kolkata Cocktail' directed by Shuvayu Bhattacharjee, where she has also featured as one of the lead actors. Her book of stories ‘All That Jazz & Other Pathbreaking Tales’ has released in Amazon Kindle recently and will soon be available in paperback. 
Her works are available on her website www.lopabanerjeewrites.com and also in Amazon.com and Amazon India. 
 
 
Memoirs Special, Setu, September 2020: Authors


2 comments :

  1. From a deeply perceptive soul an engrossing, enlightening and indepth Editorial exploring the intricate nuances of memoirs and nonfiction, a genre as complex and immense as very life itself. A masterpiece of an edition from the prestigious Setu magazine.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Very well done! This is a great memoir collection curated - masterfully done

    ReplyDelete

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