Arts in New York City: Baruch College, Fall 2008, Professor Roslyn Bernstein
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Samuel Freedman

How do we find the truth of the past? Visiting the class to share his experience of writing a memoir of his mother, Samuel Freedman was the author of Who She Was. What separated Freedman apart from other guests Professor Bernstein had invited before was the sharpness in his language. He could quickly convert his thoughts into proper language that I began to write down everything he mentioned because they were all clear and useful for my Who She Was project.

With a brief introduction, Freedman shared about why he chose to write a memoir of his mother and, subsequently, learned from it. Freedman knew the struggle of his mother, as someone battling her own health, but he wanted to explore his mother’s past to understand why she had became the person she was and what she had expected herself to be. Though his mother went to college, she eventually had to give up her “ambition to have a profession” to support her family. This piece of information helped Freedman to realize the tremendous disappointment of her mother of “not making those goals.” I think this was what he meant by “universal doesn’t mean writing universal. If you do it right, people will connect to the story.” Though the story he unveiled was his mother’s, people could still connect to the importance of family and financial burden of ordinary people.

According to Freedman, there could never be truth in writing memoir. Different family members had their own view of his mother’s life. What I found unexpected was how the different events we had gone to connected with each other in some shape or form. The director of Waltz with Bashir also commented that memories were not always the truth, but the truth was we wanted to remember.

What I got out of the meeting with Freedman was that through memoir I might discover something that I never expected. In Freedman’s case, he began to realize his misconception of the role his father played in the family and how he struggled from his mother’s suffering. For my own Who She Was memoir, I might just follow his advice to let “the subject choose me.”