History or record composed from personal observation and experience. Closely related to autobiography, a memoir differs chiefly in the degree of emphasis on external events. Unlike writers of autobiography, who are concerned primarily with themselves as subject matter, writers of memoir usually have played roles in, or have closely observed, historical events, and their main purpose is describing or interpreting those events.
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As a literary genre, a memoir (from the French: mémoire from the Latin memoria, meaning "memory"), or a reminiscence, forms a subclass of autobiography – although the terms 'memoir' and 'autobiography' are today almost interchangeable. The author of a memoir may be referred to as a memoirist.
Gore Vidal, in his own memoir Palimpsest, gave a personal definition: "a memoir is how one remembers one's own life, while an autobiography is history, requiring research, dates, facts double-checked." It is more about what can be gleaned from a section of one's life than about the outcome of the life as a whole.
Contemporary practices of writing memoirs for recreational, family or therapeutic purposes are sometimes referred to as legacy writing or personal history. Such products may be assisted by professional or amateur genealogists, or by ghostwriters.
Women writers have been prominent amongst those combining the memoir form with historical non-fiction writing. Examples include Jung Chang's Wild Swans. Maxine Hong Kingston's book The Woman Warrior is an example of a memoir that combines factual material with fictional material as it tells the author's story and the story of her family.
Some professional contemporary writers such as David Sedaris and Augusten Burroughs have specialised in writing amusing essays in the form of memoirs. To some extent this is an extension of the tradition of newspaper columnists' regular accounts of their lives. (Cf. the work of James Thurber which often has a strong memoir-like content).
Another category of memoir is the eyewitness account of history by onlookers to major events or particular eras; Slave narratives (e.g. the memoirs of Frederick Douglass) fall into this category as do those by Primo Levi and Elie Wiesel. <