What is memoir?

The word derives from the French, mémoire and from the Latin, memoria meaning memory, or a reminiscence.


Why did you write a memoir?

I did not think of my book as a memoir when I was writing it. It defied categorization. I thought of it as giving life to the experience of my investigation. In that sense it was driven solely by the need to discover.


Do you believe in muses?

Yes. My sister, Kim was my muse for this book. The persistence of her memory guided me.


Were there other guides?

Yes, Melville was a guide. In Moby Dick Melville refers to “the ungraspable phantom of life,” which for me is a perfect metaphor for suicide.


Is all art driven by investigation? By the need to discover?

If it is going to maintain a sense of urgency, it must.


Will you write another memoir?

As I said, my book is not solely a memoir. I don’t mean to be coy. It is more than that. I write about my experience living with my sister’s suicide, and also attempt to recreate her inner world. The book is also partially research driven. It is not only an account of what I have remembered. I am interested in writing another nonfiction work.


Why did you choose to write the book as nonfiction, rather than as a novel for instance?

I wanted to take down the veil that keeps suicide in a closet. If I wrote the book as fiction, I would still be hiding behind a veil. In a novel a reader might believe the “felt” emotion, but not necessarily the experience.


What has been the most rewarding aspect of publishing History of a Suicide?

I have taken satisfaction in hearing from readers who have been moved by it. I receive emails daily. The book is hitting a nerve. It doesn’t surprise me since suicide takes the lives of 30,000 people every year, if not more since many suicides are not disclosed. If 30,000 people commit suicide each year imagine all the lives that have been affected. I have heard from parents, siblings, friends and lovers who have lost people they care about to suicide. I have heard from readers who have been suicidal themselves or struggle with depression. I have heard from readers who are simply interested in reading about a subject that in one way or another impinges upon all of us. One of my favorite letters was from a twenty-year old college student. She wrote that after reading my book she realized that we are all more similar than we assume and that we share thoughts and struggles. That touched me.


Do you write books to touch your reader?

Yes.


Any last thoughts?

The irony of featuring an excerpt of History of a Suicide on a site called The Nervous Breakdown has not escaped me.

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JILL BIALOSKY is a book editor and the author of several volumes of poetry and two novels. Her poems and essays have appeared in The New Yorker, O: The Oprah Magazine, Paris Review, The Nation, The New Republic, and American Poetry Review, among other publications. She lives in New York City.

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