Welcome to the new look for 100memoirs.com! The old site still exists and has migrated to the new location, shirleyshowalter.com. I have now met the original goal of reading 100 memoirs! I discovered over the last three years and 315 posts that readers love lists of top memoirs for their own reading selection. So you can find many good lists here.

As you may recall, I announced the good news of signing a book contract for my own childhood memoir. After my hair color transformed from auburn to grey, I invited readers to help me choose photos here. If you’ve been riding the waves of change with me through the past three years, thank you! Stay on board because the fun is just beginning.

If you are new to this site and this blog, welcome aboard.

From now on, my emphasis is shifting slightly from reviewing memoirs and musing about memoir as a genre (although I will still feature guest interviews, author interviews, etc. from time to time) to sharing some of my own struggles, questions, and triumphs as I complete a manuscript. I have now drafted six chapters out of fourteen.

I’m sticking to my schedule, but I’m also finding that writing is hard work. Mary Karr recently said writing (especially memoir writing) is like hoeing a long row in the hot sun. I know all about hoeing, since I grew up hoeing tobacco. I think Mary’s metaphor is absolutely perfect. If you are a writer also, or if you are a reader who dreams about writing, I hope you will come out in the hot sun with me.

That’s why I created the video (see right-hand column) to introduce an e-book on the subject my readers care about: How to Write a Memoir. I hope you have watched the video and have signed up to get the free book and the weekly Magical Memoir Moments. I had so much fun creating them while thinking about you.

With Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Fetzer Institute colleagues

One of my strongest beliefs is that we are all connected to each other, and that good things happen when we tell our stories. One of the great blessings of my life has been the opportunity to spend time with Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Along with a group of leaders from The Fetzer Institute, I was able to sit around a circle with this remarkable man for several hours on several occasions over four years.


Archbishop Tutu has made the South African word ubuntu (Xhosa language) legendary worldwide. He explains it to students engaged in the Semester at Sea program in a short video here:



The words that inspire me most from this video seem at first blush to be antithetical to the idea of writing memoir: “There is no such thing as a solitary individual.” But when you add the rest of the Archbishop’s words, you see why memoir writing is much more than a single writer with a pen in her hand. It is a radical act: “I want you to be all you can be so that I can be all that I can be. I need you to be you so that I can be me.”

I invite you into a writing journey that will help lead you to be more you than you ever have been before. I feel myself becoming more me just by extending the invitation.

How shall we begin the next phase of this journey? What is your reaction to this idea?


Shirley Showalter


  1. jzr on January 16, 2012 at 7:54 pm

    Shirley, Congrats on finishing the 100 and the new site. It’s beautiful! I have started my own memoir and look forward to writing along with you!!


    • shirleyhs on January 17, 2012 at 2:01 pm

      So delighted to be on the journey with you, Joan. You’ve been so generous with your attention and response. All best in your writing. Tell us about it here as we go along.

  2. Annette Gendler on January 16, 2012 at 9:42 pm

    Shirley – I like the new look but I must say I miss the picture banner’s serenity. Looking forward to see how your memoir writing journey develops!

    • shirleyhs on January 17, 2012 at 1:19 am

      Annette, thanks for breaking the ice on the new site! I rather miss those sheep under the trees too. 🙂 The best I can do is to say that the picture on the landing page was taken in Lancaster, PA. If you would have driven past those twinkling lights in the background, in the 1960’s, you would have come to a dairy farm with enough bovine meadow land to vie with those blog sheep for serenity. I’m heading to that place in my next chapter. I hope I’ll be able to say with Willa Cather, “I hit the home pasture.” Thanks again for the comment.

    • shirleyhs on January 18, 2012 at 8:59 am

      Annette, I visited your site to reacquaint myself with your work, downloaded your story “Traces,” and read it last night. Wow. Your characters and images are still with me and likely will stay for a long time. And imagine my surprise to see that your narrator writes to the haunting main character, a Mennonite woman in Munich. See, we are all connected. Even beyond the grave!

  3. Richard Gilbert on January 17, 2012 at 1:46 pm

    I love your vision, Shirley. Ubuntu is very powerful, a truly enlightened concept. Generous, grassroots, and bigger than anyone alone. I love your notion that in community we can find our individuality. I look forward to seeing this develop and in some small way to being a part.

    • shirleyhs on January 17, 2012 at 2:04 pm

      Richard, I’m so glad you said this. I’ve wanted to tell you that your website is mentioned in the e-booklet I am offering on this site. I have read so many wise words there, and I am happy to point my readers in your direction and to the excellent blog roll on your site. And I’m excited about the idea of memoir and ubuntu together. So much to discover!

  4. Kathleen Friesen on January 17, 2012 at 3:52 pm

    Congratulations! The new site is elegant, easy to navigate with a clean look. It is timely as you complete your writing and look forward to editing and publishing.

    I appreciate ubuntu! And, I am interested in your choice of the word, “philosophy.” Perhaps it encompasses everything that I see in this post – from sociology to theology. I believe that we are invited to live within a messy wholeness from birth to death. Perhaps memoir is one way of ordering the complex web of systems that support, create, and evolve our lives. See also love.

    May the next 299 days surround you with the competition, collaboration, and love that will birth your book,

    • shirleyhs on January 17, 2012 at 5:03 pm

      Thanks so much, Kathleen. Your words are always so warm, insightful, and inspiring to me. You always leave me with something to think about.

  5. Tom DeWolf on January 17, 2012 at 4:11 pm

    Your new website looks wonderful, Shirley! So simple and inviting. Congratulations on this as well as the 100. May blessings reign down!

    • shirleyhs on January 17, 2012 at 5:04 pm

      Thanks, Tom! You have been a mentor to me both in your courageous book projects, your blog, which I hope other readers here will find, and your use of social media. Oh, and Go Ducks! 🙂

  6. joan on January 17, 2012 at 6:38 pm

    Love it! Thank you for encouraging the lost art of memoirs!

    • shirleyhs on January 17, 2012 at 9:23 pm

      Thanks, Joan. I just left a comment on your site. Isn’t it exciting to start the blogging website journey? All best!

  7. Marion Roach Smith on January 17, 2012 at 6:59 pm

    Congratulations on the new site. It is sleek and lovely.
    Go get ’em with the new chapters. We’ll be eager to read them. Write on.

    • shirleyhs on January 17, 2012 at 9:24 pm

      I’m honored by your interest and comment, Marion. Your own work has inspired me. As usual, you drive to the heart of the matter, the work itself. Back to Chapter Seven!

  8. Brenda Bartella Peterson on January 17, 2012 at 10:24 pm

    Congratulations, Shirley. The new site looks great and I’m awed by the speed at which you are writing your book. I have been hoeing the row for over three years. I am inching toward the finish line and will be pleased to find encouragement here at your new site. Blessings on your continued work.

    • shirleyhs on January 18, 2012 at 2:14 am

      Brenda, so good to know you are nearing the end.

      Maybe soon we can sing this song together. (I’ve been writing memoir essays since 2007, so it’s taking me a long time, too).

      .Inch by inch, row by row
      Gonna make this garden grow
      Gonna mulch it deep and low
      Gonna make it fertile ground

      Inch by inch, row by row
      Please bless these seeds I sow
      Please keep them safe below
      ‘Till the rain comes tumbling down

      Pullin’ weeds and pickin’ stones
      We are made of dreams and bones
      Need a place to call my own
      ‘Cause the time is close at hand

      Grain for grain, sun and rain
      Find my way in nature’s chain
      Till my body and my brain
      Tell the music of the land


      Plant your rows straight and long
      Season with a prayer and song
      Mother Earth will make you strong
      If you give her loving care

  9. Sanna on January 17, 2012 at 10:49 pm

    Congrats, Shirley! You’re an inspiration on so many fronts — nanny-granny, teacher, writer, finder, connector, self-reinventor. Wow. Can’t wait to follow along this journey.

    • shirleyhs on January 18, 2012 at 2:16 am

      Sanna, isn’t it wonderful that we were connected in Haiti in 1980 and can still feel the tie that binds? Thanks for hopping on the comment wagon. Grateful for you.

  10. Susan Trabucchi on January 18, 2012 at 12:53 am

    LOVE the new site. Congrats, Shirley. It’s been such a privilege watching your next act unfold. Way to go, friend!

    • shirleyhs on January 18, 2012 at 2:20 am

      I love seeing your shining face here, Susan. I know you, too, felt love for the Archbishop as you watched this video and gratitude that we both had the chance to see him up close and know what an amazing human being he is. Ubuntu. Only as you become fully yourself can I become all I was meant to be.

  11. Jerry Waxler on January 18, 2012 at 8:01 pm

    I love the expression “Writing a memoir is a radical act.” Courage, peace, social commitment, are all possible in that act. And thanks for the invitation!! I appreciate you pulling for my memoir in progress (5 years and counting!) Somehow, by sharing “blog space” with you, I feel like we have been companions on the journey already!! I look forward to continue on the way, “shoulder to shoulder” – virtually speaking.

    Best wishes,
    Memory Writers Network

    • shirleyhs on January 18, 2012 at 8:53 pm

      Thanks so much, Jerry. I am pulling for you, shoulder to shoulder, all the way! It’s really hard work, isn’t it? For me, it was a breakthrough to conceive of the memoir writing process consisting of a connection to others even when it has to be solitary. One of those deep paradoxes that makes life rich. Thanks so much for this comment. It’s been too long since I have visited your blog, so off I go!

  12. ShirleyK on January 19, 2012 at 8:19 am

    I missed you. It’s nice to have you back.

    • shirleyhs on January 19, 2012 at 8:49 am

      Thanks, Shirley K. I missed you too. Glad to be back.

  13. Sharon Lippincott on January 20, 2012 at 9:49 am

    Congratulations on reaching this transition point. This is the sort of moment we are encouraged later to put on our timelines and write about in memoir, but when they happen, they don’t always stand out as such. This one should!

    Love the new site design. Clean, bright, open. I feel my breath expand as I scan it. Nice work. I look forward to your process updates.

  14. shirleyhs on January 20, 2012 at 12:58 pm

    Thanks, Sharon. I loved that your breath expanded. Thank you for those words. Expansion is the theme I am working with this morning in writing Chapter Seven about the Home Place. You have encouraged me immensely with your comment.

  15. Lynette Benton on January 20, 2012 at 4:30 pm

    I’m so glad to see you back, Shirley!

    • shirleyhs on January 20, 2012 at 4:36 pm

      Thanks, Lynette. It’s exciting to be back. Thanks for returning!

  16. Lynette Benton on January 20, 2012 at 4:31 pm

    P.S. How do I get my photo to show up with my comment?

    • shirleyhs on January 20, 2012 at 4:37 pm

      I think you might need a WordPress Gravatar. Try googling that and insert a photo. Then come back and test it out!

  17. Linda Gartz on January 20, 2012 at 6:18 pm

    The site is elegant, Shirley. And congratulations on reading all those memoirs! I’ll have to make a list of all the memoirs I’ve read — just to see; not even 1/3 of your accomplishment. The video is a good addition. I think your photo at the top is wonderful. I like the new hair color.

    • shirleyhs on January 20, 2012 at 7:09 pm

      Thanks, Linda, I’m so glad you found me here. After a month of radio silence, one never knows if old friends will be back. I appreciate your saying what you enjoy. It really isn’t hard to read 100 memoirs. You might be surprised at how many you’ve read over a lifetime!

  18. Sonia Marsh/Gutsy Living on January 20, 2012 at 11:34 pm

    Clever new approach you have from reading 100 memoirs to now focusing on your writing and being more “you.” is this how you envisioned things developing or is this something that grew through time and experience?

    • shirleyhs on January 21, 2012 at 9:01 am

      Sonia, I love this question. Perhaps I’ll answer it more in depth in another blog post or in the new facebook writers page I expect to publish in the coming week. (I hope all of you will come “like” it. And we can talk more there.)

      But, for now, let me say that the ideas evolved. I didn’t see this site or its emphasis on community when I first began. But the more I read about and participated in social media, the more I wanted to invite others to join. Writing about one’s life just for its own sake is good. But writing for a larger purpose and with others — wow, that’s exciting!

  19. Shirley Showalter, ubuntu & memoir | NARRATIVE on January 22, 2012 at 4:50 pm

    […] life, she has also revamped her blog, 100Memoirs, launched in 2009, and her inaugural post, “Ubuntu: A Philosophy of Memoir Writing,” explains her generosity. “Ubuntu” should be required reading for every memoirist—make […]

  20. Roselle Kovitz on January 30, 2012 at 12:26 pm

    What a beautiful site, Shirley, and I love your reference to ubuntu. Congratulations on the progress you’ve made–I imagine you’ve worked up quite a sweat in the hot sun! Thank you for sharing your journey.

    • shirleyhs on January 30, 2012 at 12:29 pm

      So wonderful to see your name in the comments, Roselle. Yes, the sun is hot again today. Just gotta roll up the sleeves. And keep going “inch by inch and row by row.”

  21. Sarah Baughman on February 1, 2012 at 7:56 am

    Shirley, I love the hoe rowing analogy! It is so true. Writing and gardening are spiritual, fruitful, fulfilling acts that are also just plain hard. The ubuntu philosophy you mention makes it all worthwhile, though. Reminds me a lot of Bear River, actually. I think of our memoir class– all of these individuals writing individual stories, yet benefiting so much from one another’s counsel and the connections we found in seemingly diverse experiences. Great post!

    • shirleyhs on February 1, 2012 at 8:11 am

      Sarah, thanks so much for this comment. As I recall, you have been a pretty serious gardener, both with plants and with words. Yes, the Bear River Writers Conference experience was a wonderful example of Ubuntu at work. I can see all of us sitting in that circle. I send a blessing to each face I see — and a special blessing to you for reminding me of that time.

  22. shirleyhs on February 1, 2012 at 9:33 am

    To all who find this post. You can read a follow-up interview Richard Gilbert did with me at his wonderful blog Narrative here. There are actually two interview posts and one on Ubuntu itself. Starting here you can continue with two more posts:http://richardgilbert.me/2012/01/22/shirley-showalter-ubuntu-memoir/

  23. Kathleen Pooler on February 2, 2012 at 12:16 pm

    Shirley, You new site is beautiful-clean,fresh and easy to navigate. Congratulations on this and on your new book deal! As an aspiring memoirist, I appreciate all the valuable information you provide and have thoroughly enjoyed following 100Memoirs. The philosophy of “Ubuntu”- help me be all I can be by being all you can be” really gets at the heart of memoir writing as I have come to know it~ speaking from our hearts and sharing our stories so that we can all be enriched, enlightened and inspired. And of course the metaphor of” hoeing in the hot sun” certainly resonates. Thanks for all you do,Shirley. I look forward to following you in your journey!

    • shirleyhs on February 2, 2012 at 6:04 pm

      Thanks, Kathleen! So glad you like what you see. I enjoy following you, too. Many blessings.

  24. […] live longest, could become an irrepressible, irresistible force for good. Much like the concept of Ubuntu described in my recent post, the life review process during the third act, if we actually conduct one, gives each of us the […]

  25. […] voice. This is the case I have tried to make also, less cogently, in posts like this one on Ubuntu as a philosophy of memoir. Orr explained how aesthetics becomes ethics when the voice of the poet calls attention to the […]

  26. […] of writers and readers. I love to think about writing as community. And I want my story to resemble ubuntu, helping others to become better selves too. Ideally, the work done to build relationships online […]

  27. […] community. The fully acknowledged self is actually a gift to a larger whole. I’ve called this an ubuntu philosophy of […]

  28. shirleyhs on May 11, 2012 at 8:14 am

    Found this quote from the back of the little book Thinking About Memoir by Abigail Thomas. The book was published by AARP in a series, which is explained in the back. Here’s the last sentence: “More is at stake than our individual happiness, for each person is also a cell in the larger bodypolitic; our enduring as a culture, even as species, may be in question.”

  29. […] than seeing you fully realize yours in print. I like to refer to this spiritual connection with the South African name “ubuntu.” If you can tap into this universal source of joy, you will have us singing too. Your pen has the […]

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