Writer’s Toolbox

Ask The Writer

Your most pressing and perplexing questions about writing answered here by Gotham teacher Brandi Reissenweber.

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I'd like to write a memoir with my sister, but I've never seen a book like this with two authors. Is it possible?

Yes, it’s certainly possible. Before you go forward, though, consider how the dual perspectives will function in the memoir. Will each of your perspectives offer something unique? Will the different perspectives inform one another? If so, then collaboration can be a good idea.

There are many ways a collaborative effort could work well in a memoir. Here’s just one example: They Poured Fire on Us From the Sky is a memoir by Benjamin Ajak, Benson Deng and Alephonsion Deng that documents their experience as children during war in Sudan and their arrival in the United States as young men. Ajak, Deng and Deng are part of a group of nearly 4,000 Sudanese (dubbed the “Lost Boys of Sudan” by Western media) who fled their homes as children, survived the harrowing journey to refugee camps, and were later brought to the United States. These three different perspectives illustrate the group experience, something unique to the “Lost Boys of the Sudan,” and at the same time show the markedly different individual experiences.

Should you decide the collaborative approach is a good one for the project, consider how this will play out. Having that focus can help direct your writing process. The questions specific to your project will likely be different than these ones, but I offer them up in the hopes that they give you direction or trigger even more targeted questions: If your accounts compete in some way, how will you use that to create interest and deepen the reader’s understanding of the situation? If the perspectives work toward the same aim, how will you organize the work so that the two perspectives build on one another? Will the two perspectives tell the same story at the same time? Or will they start out as two seemingly different narratives that, at some point, converge?

With some forethought, a collaborative memoir can be a compelling read, one that tells a deeper and, perhaps, more complete story.