In this post from Writers Write, your one-stop writing resource, we explain the difference between an autobiography and a memoir.
What is the difference between an Autobiography and a Memoir?
Both memoirs and autobiographies are based on truth and both require lots of research, but there are significant differences between the two.
- Is usually written by a famous person.
- Makes use of documentary records.
- Focuses on an entire life.
- Begins at birth, progressing chronologically to your age now.
- Has the feeling of a historical document.
- Is filled with facts and specific dates.
- Can be written by anyone.
- Is a representation of memory, not of history.
- Focuses on an event, theme, era, or choice in a life.
- Begins anywhere, can move backwards and forwards, and ends wherever you choose to end it.
- Is based on memory, and it is a personal telling of an event.
- Is more concerned with the emotional truths of your life.
The two forms are not interchangeable.
Most of us will be writing a Memoir. We will look back at our lives and decide on a timeline and a theme for our story. We will remember as much as we can, and we will research as much as we can.
It is important to remember that memoirs are not fiction. They are about real people and the things that actually happened in our lives.
Examples of Autobiographies
- Agatha Christie: An Autobiography by Agatha Christie
- Becoming by Michelle Obama
- Confessions by Augustine
- Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance by Barack Obama
- I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
- Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela
- Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass by Frederick Douglass
- The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin by Benjamin Franklin
- The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm X and Alex Haley
- The Story of My Experiments with Truth by Mahatma Gandhi
- The Story of My Life by Helen Keller
Examples of Memoirs
- Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt
- Girl, Interrupted by Susana Kasen
- Heaven’s Coast by Mark Doty
- House on the River by Nessa Rapoport
- Incognito: The memoirs of Ben Trovato by Mark Verbaan
- Levels of Life by Julian Barnes
- One Midlife Crisis and a Speedo by Darrel Bristow-Bovey
- Out of Africa by Isak Dinnesen
- Patrimony by Philip Roth
- Paula by Isabel Allende
- Somewhere Towards the End by Diana Athill
- Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain
- The Black Notebooks: An Interior Journey by Toi Derricoted
- The Liars’ Club by Mary Karr
- The Red Devil: To Hell with Cancer and Back by Katherine Rich
- The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion
- Two or Three Things I Know for Sure by Dorothy Allison
- Virgin Time by Patricia Hampl
P.S. If you want to learn how to write a memoir, join our Secrets of a Memoirist course.
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