Cover image for I could tell you stories : sojourns in the land of memory
I could tell you stories : sojourns in the land of memory
Hampl, Patricia, 1946-
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : W.W. Norton, [1999]

Physical Description:
229 pages ; 22 cm
Personal Subject:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
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Item Holds
CT21 .H33 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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In this timely gathering, Patricia Hampl, one of our most elegant practitioners, "weaves personal stories and grand ideas into shimmering bolts of prose" (Minneapolis Star Tribune) as she explores the autobiographical writing that has enchanted or bedeviled her. Subjects engaging Hampl's attention include her family's response to her writing, the ethics of writing about family and friends, St. Augustine's Confessions, reflections on reading Walt Whitman during the Vietnam War, and an early experience reviewing Sylvia Plath. The word that unites the impulse within all the pieces is "Remember!"--a command that can be startling. For to remember is to make a pledge: to the indelible experience of personal perception, and to history itself.

Author Notes

Patricia Hampl is the author of two highly acclaimed memoirs, A Romantic Education (reissued in paperback by Norton, with an updated Afterword) and Virgin Time. Both books were New York Times Notable Books of the Year. Hampl is also the author of Spillville, a prose meditation on Dvorak in Iowa, and two collections of poetry. She is the recipient of many awards, including a MacArthur Fellowship. She is Regents' Professor at the University of Minnesota and lives in St. Paul.

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Two essay collections examine the multifarious nature of memory and the current passion for the memoir. Memory is a complex subject open to infinite interpretation, as Baxter discovered in his role as editor of the third volume in the lively Graywolf Forum series, The Business of Memory. The title alludes to both the remembrances of one person's life and the electronic memory of information technologies, but most of the contributors address memory's more personal aspects as well as memory's opposite, forgetting. Lydia Davis muses over whether the dead live on in memories. Alvin Greenberg cannot remember his first kiss. Family memories occupy several writers, including Richard Bausch and Sylvia Watanabe, and memory as the impetus for reading and writing intrigues others, including the acclaimed memoirist Patricia Hampl. Hampl's contribution to Baxter's forum considers the conflict between expression and privacy, the writer's commitment to commemorating life and her subjects' objections to being treated as "material." This piece appears last in Hampl's remarkable volume of essays about autobiography, a subject that she uses as a vehicle for considering how writing about one's own life reveals a larger world. Memoirs, Hampl believes, are akin to lyric poetry in their sensuous involvement with detail and use of an intimate first-person voice. It's not the story that matters in a memoir, she suggests, but the evocation of the workings of a mind. Hampl develops this insight in original interpretations of how the self, the fruit of memory, is defined in the work of Walt Whitman, Sylvia Plath, Anne Frank, and Czeslaw Milosz. Lucid and questing, Hampl ponders the spirituality inherent in the work of poets and memoirists, impassioned witnesses to the inner life. --Donna Seaman

Library Journal Review

Several of the writers featured in these volumes make reference to the problem of memoirs in contemporary culture: their proliferation, the troubled skepticism about their value and meaning, and the disdain for their perceived narcissism. In different ways, these books explore those issues and embody the best that memoir can beÄintelligent and perceptive reflection that looks both inward and outward. Edited by Baxter, a novelist and critic, the third volume in the provocative "Graywolf Forum" series offers timely insights into the place of memory and memoir in contemporary society. In his introduction, Baxter identifies the unifying theme of the essays as a dual anxiety about the public and the private and what he calls "the effect of memory's peculiar privacy." These are self-conscious and beautifully written essays that deftly explore the act of memoir-making and the art of storytelling. Ranging from tales of trauma and loss to quotidian and even banal events, they probe the tension between memory and forgetting and the mysteries of how we do each. In I Could Tell You Stories, award-winning writer Hampl collects 11 essays, eight previously published (and one of which appears in Baxter's volume). Here the pivotal theme is the fusion of the reader and writer at the heart of the writer's "communion of the word." In polished narratives rich with evocative detail and astute observations on reading and writing about other authorsÄincluding Walt Whitman, St. Augustine, Franz Kafka, Sylvia Plath, and Czeslaw MiloszÄHampl achieves what she praises Whitman for, placing herself "between the personal and the impersonal." In so doing, she offers fresh perspectives on memory, writing, and literature. Both books are recommended for academic and public libraries.ÄJulia Burch, Cambridge, MA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

Edith Stein
To the Readerp. 11
Red Sky in the Morningp. 15
Memory and Imaginationp. 21
The Mayflower Moment: Reading Whitman during the Vietnam Warp. 38
What She Couldn't Tellp. 61
Czeslaw Milosz and Memoryp. 83
A Book Sealed with Seven Sealsp. 103
The Smile of Accomplishment: Sylvia Plath's Ambitionp. 129
The Invention of Autobiography: Augustine's Confessionsp. 166
Reviewing Anne Frankp. 184
The Need to Say Itp. 195
Other People's Secretsp. 208
Acknowledgmentsp. 231