#87 Writing Memoir That Reads Like a Novel and Captivates on Every Page Featuring Joanna Rakoff

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Joanna Rakoff


I first met Joanna Rakoff at AWP 2024 in Kansas City, MO when I attended her off-site panel called “Women Who Leave”. In this panel, Joanna, Kelly McMasters (Episode #39  ), Maggie Smith,  (Episode #81), Reema Zaman, and Dionne Ford talked about the topics of their books, and how women are often portrayed in stories, and how they are turning some of the tropes around.

It was fascinating, and I was thrilled to connect with Joanna in person, and then read her wonderful book My Salinger Year. As someone who comes from consumer publishing around the same time her book takes place in the mid-90s, I found several parallels to our stories. I wonder if perhaps Joanna and I crossed paths at some point, and muse on that in this episode. Also in this episode:

  • Discovering the real theme of your memoir 
  • The game Joanna plays with herself to make her stories come alive
  • How to build out every character in your memoir so they are not one dimensional
  • The experience of having your writing adapted into a movie
  • Why it’s essential to add research into your memoir 
  • The fine art of excavating memories 
  • The power of fear to bring out creativity when writing
  • Tips for writers on how to write without distraction 

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About Joanna

Joanna Rakoff is the author of the international bestselling memoir My Salinger Year and the bestselling novel A Fortunate Age, winner of the Goldberg Prize for Fiction and the Elle Readers’ Prize. Rakoff’s books have been translated into twenty languages, and the film adaptation of My Salinger Year opened in theaters worldwide in 2021 and is now streaming. She has been the recipient of fellowships and residencies from MacDowell, Sewanee, Bread Loaf, Jerome Foundation, Authors’ Guild, PEN, Ragdale Foundation, Art OMI/Ledig House, and Saltonstall; and has taught at Columbia University, Brooklyn College, and Aspen Words. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Guardian, O: The Oprah Magazine, Vogue, Elle, Porter, and elsewhere, and her new memoir, The Fifth Passenger, is forthcoming from Little, Brown in 2024.

The film adaptation of My Salinger Year stars Margaret Qualley as Joanna and Sigourney Weaver as her boss. Directed by Oscar-nominee Philippe Falardeau, the film opened in sixty-five countries in 2021, and is available for streaming wherever you rent movies.

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I  was recently on the fabulous Dear Nina: Conversations About Friendship Podcast Talking about my  invisible disability (hearing loss) that I wrote about for Shondaland. Check out the episode Disclosing My Invisible Disability Increased the Intimacy In My Friendships: Estelle Erasmus here. Loved my chat with Nina.

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