Autobiography or memoir — which is it?


Autobiography or memoir? This question arose at a recent writers’ critique group I belong to.

When do you use autobiography and when do you call your work a memoir?

Autobiographies tend to cover the author’s life completely offering one’s life history. They tend to be factual using the who, what, when, where, etc. template.

Memoirs tend to focus on a point in a person’s life. The style of writing is usual more literary and creative.

The word “‘memoir” is used in the sense of remembrance or reminiscence. In both cases, the stories are true.

The above information was gleaned from websites. One of our writers’ critique group posed the question about autobiographies and memoirs to a noted writer at a recent Northern Colorado Writers conference.

Chuck Sambuchino, writer/editor at Writer Digest Books had a slightly different view of autobiographies and memoirs. Sambuchino said:

An autobiography is reserved for someone famous like a President, movie star, athlete, etc. and is about his/her whole life from childhood to whenever he/she became famous or his/her whole life if it’s someone like Ronald Reagan who has passed away.

A memoir could be someone famous, but doesn’t have to be and it’s about a short period in their life.  For example, someone could write a memoir about being prisoner in Africa or time spent in Africa, etc.






2 responses to “Autobiography or memoir — which is it?

  1. I don’t have a problem w/”autobiography” or “memoir.” The conflict will not keep me awake at night. I have a huge problem, though–and so should you–with the use of “their” in place of the proper “his” in the last 2 paragraphs. C’mon, people! What’s the point of focusing a site on English usage, then egregiously misusing the language? Feminazis are fine for some purposes, but not for forcing us to change our perfectly good, broad language to satisfy some nutty, misplaced gender sensitivity. Sheesh!

  2. Your feedback is appreciated Billybob. I made some corrections. I agree that this site focuses on English but I do have flaws. I call it a look at the “use, misuse and humor in words.” You found a misuse. Thanks and be safe out there in earthquake country.