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“The Watchers” is a film adaptation of the 2022 book of the same name by A.M. Shine.
Review: “The Watchers”
Published June 13, 2024

Authors discuss memoirs, life as part of U’s Great Conversations series

W By Shawna Tessum

when author Eva Hoffman left Poland and immigrated to Canada at age 13, she did not know a word of English and found herself immersed in a culture in which she could not communicate.

“It was a dislocating and disorienting experience,” Hoffman said. “People didn’t think I was eloquent or intelligent because I couldn’t communicate in English, and speaking in Polish was not appropriate at all. The biggest loss was that I had no internal language.”

But she ended up learning English so well that she decided to write. To explore the relationships between culture, language and identity, Hoffman wrote about her personal experiences. She discussed memoir writing Tuesday with a person she considers a pioneer of the genre: University Regents professor Patricia Hampl.

Part of the College of Continuing Education’s Great Conversations series, the author’s discussion, titled “The Art of Remembering,” entertained a crowd of approximately 700 people at Ted Mann Concert Hall.

Explaining the memoir genre, Hampl asked the audience, “Why is a woman in her 30s, who is unimportant and to whom nothing has happened, writing about herself?”

Joking that she has never had anything other than “a good old Minnesota driver’s license,” Hampl explained that memoir writing is not so much about what happens as it is about how the mind responds to what happens.

“In memoir, no one can say you’re not right, because you’re just telling what happened from your perspective and relating how you felt about it. When you move to nonfiction, you lose that experience,” Hampl said.

Marie Michael, a high school English teacher and part-time University student, attended the event and said the purpose of a memoir is to “make the personal, universal.”

“You’re writing for an audience, and an audience wants to see themselves in what they read,” Michael said.

She said Hampl’s message of creating a memoir as a way to represent people and as a “gift you can leave for your family” has inspired her to take lessons from the lecture back to her own classroom.

“It put a new lens on how I think about memoir writing,” Michael said. “I’d really never thought of memoir writing as a way of representing a whole group of people.”

Hampl, who began her undergraduate life as a music major at the University, is now an award-winning author, known for work including her memoir, “A Romantic Education.”

Shawna Tessum is a freelance writer. The freelance editor welcomes comments at [email protected]
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