Brenda Smit-James ~ Writer, Memoirist, Instructor

The First Recorded Memoirist


St. Augustine, first memoirist, writing his memoir, head on hand

As the pioneer of the genre of memoir, there is much we can learn from the work of St. Augustine of Hippo.

The activity of giving a written account of our lives is hardly new. St. Augustine completed his memoir Confessions in the year 398 when he was 46 years old. He started his memoir soon after he was appointed Bishop of Hippo, in modern day Algeria, in 396. 

St. Augustine traces his life in chronological order, from infancy to age 32 and chooses his spiritual development, and at times lack thereof, as his focus. He narrows his focus even further so as to identify and explore how God pursued him through various experiences in his life.

In Confessions, St. Augustine poses a question that has resounded through the centuries and still resonates with us today. He writes, “And I turned myself unto myself, and said to myself, “Who are You?”. He goes on to ask and answer other questions, such as Why am I here? Is this all it is? And does God exist?

These questions are what we call universal themes. Regardless of our gender, our race, or our nationality, and whether we live in Toronto or Tehran, or whether we work in the rice fields of Sri Lanka or fly jetliners out of Singapore, we all ask ourselves these questions. And we have through the centuries.

Here in lies the charge of the memoirist - to use themselves, their life experiences, and their observations to explore, illustrate, and write on these universal themes.

What universal theme are you most drawn to explore? What is it about your life story that you think will resonate with readers?

1 comment

  • Brenda Smit-James

    In my memoir, I have explored the deep questionings that come after the death of a loved one. They are the universal questions about faith. Is faith, and in particular my Christian faith, true, valid, and of worth?

    A deep curiosity I have, which I want to explore in writing, is why are some people able to find a way forward through the difficulties of life and others get stuck? What are the qualities the first group tap into that the second group miss?

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