When Utah passed a law allowing “free-range parenting” at the end of March 2018, I understood better the need and purpose for such legislation. A few weeks earlier, I had reported on the panel, “The Enhanced Memoir: When It Happened to Me Isn’t Enough” for Assay: A Journal of Nonfiction Studies. Author Kim Brooks who led the discussion explained the basis for her book Small Animals: Parenthood in the Age of Fear. Arrested for leaving her child in the car for a few minutes while she ran into a store, Brooks started with an essay about what happened and the impact on her life. But then she began to do more research and interviews. Ultimately, she created a book that is a hybrid between memoir and journalism.
Perhaps, Brooks’ story can serve as metaphor for writers. Sometimes, telling a story well requires us to go outside current boundaries. In traditional journalism, for example, reporters learn to never insert themselves in the story. In similar fashion, memoirists learn to focus on their own experience. But when those rules are loosened, the result is not a story run amok. Instead, research gives greater meaning to the story of an individual; the individual’s experience makes reported research salient.