Young Women Memoirs: Suggestions?

The other night, I held individual conferences with my advanced composition students to discuss their progress on drafting their researched essays.  Since this is a great group of students (I’ve written a little about them here) the 4 hours flew by with conversations ranging from “how do I cite a source that cites another source?”  to “how do I best juggle multiple sources?” to “should I begin by discussing Science Fiction or Dune itself?”

But my last student conference was with a young woman who, uncharacteristically, hadn’t handed in a rough draft to discuss, so I was curious and concerned about her all evening wondering if she would show up.  She did. Her essay is on how children of war are affected morally: a complex, intellectual topic for a first year student.  We briefly discussed her progress on the paper before getting to the real issue: she sheepishly admitted, at the same time dismissing its importance, that she had just broken up with her boyfriend of 5 years (they have been seeing each other since she was 15), and, as a result, she’d been couch surfing all week, thus the missing draft. 

I tried to assure her that it was, indeed, a big deal to break up with a boyfriend, especially one she was with for such a long period in her life, and that I understood completely.  She promised to get me a draft as soon as possible, recognizing that she was now ready to “bury” herself in her school work after a week (!) of mourning.

But here’s where the women’s memoirs come in: she is hiking this summer, alone, on the Appalachian Trail, and hoped to write a memoir about it.  Right now she is keeping a daily journal leading up to the big trip–but she was finding such daily notations unsatisfying.    Yet she didn’t quite get my suggestion that she approach her note taking more organically rather than impose such an artificial structure: I told her to think of the tag clouds in bogs, but she doesn’t read blogs. 

So what I’d like to do is recommend some memoirs for her to read before she heads off to her big hike.  Here are a few I’ve thought of, but I’d love suggestions, especially of works by younger writers that I’ve not included here:

  • Alice Koller/The Unknown Woman or The Stations of Solitude
  • Anne Lamott/Travelling Mercies
  • Annie Dillard/An American Childhood
  • Patricia Hampl/A Romantic Education
  • Dorothy Allison/Trash
  • Sallie Tisdale/Stepping Westward

6 responses to “Young Women Memoirs: Suggestions?

  1. Thank you so much, Feminist Review. I’m hopping to your links immediately.

    I’m well aware I’m in need of a year-long sabbatical to catch up on my women’s memoirs….

  2. Ah book requests … can’t resist.

    How about some books with outdoor/nature aspects.

    Rowing to Latitude, Jill Fredston
    Refuge, Terry Tempest Williams
    A Match to the Heart, Gretel Ehrlich
    Listening to Whales, Alexandra Morton

    Some of these aren’t strictly memoirs but they all have elements of the memoir form.

    While it’s not by a woman, I have to mention Bill Bryson’s book on walking the Appalachian Trail, A Walk in the Woods.

    And two other memoirs that I thought were very good
    Bad Blood, Lorna Sage
    Glass Castle, Jeannette Walls

  3. Hi AndiF:
    I was hoping you’d comment….

    I actually was thinking of “A Walk in the Woods” but I couldn’t think of the title, so thank you for that one. And of course Glass Castle: silly of me to forget that one. The others are new to me–thank you, once again!!

    Take care,


  4. The Journal of Madam Knight by Sarah Kemble Knight, a fascinating early American travel narrative.

    Also Isabella Bird, an English travel writer who wrote a number of books about her journeys.

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