Annie Dillard–An American Childhood
A magical moment in a writer’s life is when you read a book–and realize the similarities between the writers’ subject matter, and your own raw material. You think, Hmm, I could do this. Then you look at the writer’s structure. Simple, huh? And think, I could do this. And so on. And then you try…
Patricia Hampl’s A Romantic Education was one of the books which got me started on writing memoir. Another was, oddly, Midnight’s Children–with the idea of doing with non-fiction what Rushdie did with fiction. Yet, another on these books which functioned for me like golden keys was
Annie Dillard’s An American Childhood.
Annie grew up in Pittsburgh, and I grew up in Jamshedpur, India. Both of them were steel towns. Both childhoods were intense, though she had a broader canvas and more outlets for her intensities–all the books she could read, microscopes to examine pond life etc. What struck me about Dillard’s book was how she creates a memoir out of the relatively ordinary childhood of a gifted, intense, extraordinary girl.
Short chapter after chapter describes the blisses of her childhood–books, of course; childhood friendships, stamps, rocks, nature, writing poetry, struggles with doubt, eschewing Christianity.
Hmm. Hers was one of the first memoirs I read (as opposed to autobiography) and I still love its structure. So, a memoir can be constructed like this—each chapter of roughly 3 pages devoted to an intense experience or passion–celebrating what Wordsworth called “spots of time.”