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Memoir: Real-Life Characters and the Who Cares? Question

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The greatest challenge for a memoirist: to create work that’s meaningful to others. How can we achieve both uniqueness and universality? Another challenge: dealing with characters who really exist. How can we maintain our real-life relationships without compromising the stories we need to tell? Are family loyalty and literary integrity necessarily at odds? Memoirists Sarah Saffian, Alexandra Styron, and Kathryn Harrison discuss these issues, in pursuit of a form of expression that we can support as both authors and daughters.

SARAH SAFFIAN, former Editorial Director of She Writes, is the author of Ithaka, reviewed by the NYT Book Review and others. She teaches at the Iowa Summer Writing Festival, works independently as a writing coach/editor, and this fall joins the faculty at NYU's Journalism Institute. She holds an MFA from Columbia.

Alexandra Styron, author of the novel All The Finest Girls and the memoir Reading My Father, holds an MFA from Columbia. Her work has appeared in the New Yorker and The Wall Street Journal, among others. She has also contributed to several anthologies.

Kathryn Harrison is the author of many novels, including Envy and The Seal Wife, memoirs such as The Kiss, and other non-fiction books. She is a frequent reviewer for The NYT Book Review; her essays have appeared in many publications and anthologies. 

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