Jonathan Fryer

The Art of Autobiography

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 13th July, 2009

Julia Blackburn The Three of UsAutobiography is not about truth. Autobiography is about memory, which is a fickle friend. One can never be sure whether to trust it or not. But as a genre it is increasingly popular; we love to share people’s perceptions of themselves. Hence the establishment, many years ago now, of the Ackerley Prize, named after J R Ackerley, literary editor of the Listener and author of those extraordinary books My Father and Myself and Hindoo Holiday, amongst others. This evening, at the gallery at Foyles bookshop in the Charing Cross Road, the 2009 prize was awarded to Julia Blackburn, for her book The Three of Us. Unfortunately, the author herself could not be present to accept the cheque, as her house on the hilltop in Italy where she lives had been hit by a thunderbolt. How literary is that?

Instead, we had some entertaining short readings and comments from two autobiographers of note, Dan Jacobson (Time and Time Again) and Miranda Seymour (The House of My Father), in an enjoyable, but not always entirely audible, session moderated by the Chairman of the Ackerley Prize, Peter Parker. The Gallery was filled to capacity, which only goes to show that the book is not dead — or at least our nosiness about other people’s lives is enduring.  ‘One of the pleasures of being a writer is taking revenge,’ the deceptively mild octogenarian Dan Jacobson declared, with a half-smile as innocent as that of a clockwinder. ‘Memoir is a very English literary form’ countered Miranda Seymour.  ‘Americans tend to turn their story into fiction.’

Link: www.englishpen.org and www.foyles.co.uk

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