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Almost a Woman
Masterpiece Theatre Almost a Woman
Teacher's Guide [imagemap with 8 links]

The Art of the Memoir: Activities

  • As a class, define the literary terms memoir, autobiography, and biography. Why might a writer choose one form over another? Which one would you choose and why? Recall other books or films that told the story of someone's life. Examine the different ways in which the story is told. Which technique do you prefer and why?

  • In an interview, Esmeralda Santiago remarked, "I follow the process of memory, which is sometimes chronological but often has its own needs." What do you think she means by the needs of memory? Does the film follow a chronological order of events? What other devices does it use to record the writer's memory? If you were to film or write your own life experiences, what would your "process of memory" be? What events might you highlight? What might you leave out? Write an outline or proposal for your movie.

  • If the story of your life were made into a film, what scene would it open with? What music might be playing in the background? Explain your choices. Now think about casting the film. Who would you want to play you, your family, etc.? Write a memo to the head of a movie studio outlining your plans for the film.

  • Try writing a chapter of your own memoir. You may want to choose from the following: a turning point in your life, an important relationship, an incident that stands out in your mind, a familiar anecdote. Assign a title to your memoir and/or chapter. Now interview a family member or friend about the events you chose to write about. How does their recollection differ from yours? Report back to the class what you discovered.

  • It's often effective to write about a person by imagining them in a certain place -- in the kitchen, by the ocean, on the subway. Think about a person who is important to you and a place you associate with him or her. Write a description in prose or poetry. What does this place say about the person and/or your relationship with him or her?

  • In response to a teacher who told Esmeralda Santiago that "the great thing about a memoir is that it's invented each time it's written," Santiago concluded, "OK, I'm going to invent a Puerto Rican memoir." What do you think Santiago meant? What kind of memoir would you have to "invent" in order to tell your story? Now choose a different format in which to tell your story: song, rap, poem, collage, photo essay, etc. Create the memoir (or a portion of it) for display or performance in class.

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