The writerly ‘I’ is notoriously fraught and political in non-fiction writing. What are the implications of writing from a biased and limited perspective (as all of us inevitably do)? How to get around – or work within – the constraints of the personal? These questions are ethical ones but also ones of craft. Many memoirists and essayists have grappled explicitly with them on the page.
In 2017, Ellena Savage wrote an essay titled ‘Antimemoir, as in Fuck You (as in Fuck Me)’. It was published as part of her books column in The Lifted Brow. Savage has lost her writerly ‘I’, she claims in this essay, following three events: an anti-memoir workshop run by writer Bhanu Kapil; reading James Alan McPherson’s Crabcakes (1998) and Yiyun Li’s Dear Friend, From My Life I Write to You in Your Life (2017); and uprooting her life (‘again’). ‘When in the past I wrote,’ Savage writes, ‘there was a point from which “I” could pivot. A time and a place and a self, located at the centre of those dimensions.’ But now? ‘Can’t write memoir now. How ’bout antimemoir?’