BY HALEY HODGES
For most students at Drake University, memories of the events of 9/11 are faded or fabricated with details they’ve been told of the fateful day to fill in the gaps from a young memory.
Professors can offer a view of their recollection to students on the anniversary or as it becomes relevant to their studies, with some having more personal accounts that they’re willing to share.
For Megan Brown, an English professor known for teaching several courses with focuses on autobiographies, memoirs, and personal essays, the event struck, quite literally, close to home.
Brown, a native New Yorker said she was in Pennsylvania as a grad student at the time, about to teach a class of freshmen writing students, when the news started to come in.
“I wasn’t there, but I felt it very keenly,” Brown said.
From that moment on, Brown started seeing a new trend in the landscape of autobiographies and memoirs through her studies and her teaching.
She noted a kind of shift in what stories were being told that she hypothesized in her new book, “American Autobiography After 9/11.”
“I was noticing these trends and these sort of conglomerates of different books that I was looking at and I thought, you know, all of these books have this common theme of anxiety and identity and all of them were published after 9/11, is there a way to connect those two things?” Brown said.
The book, released in January, discusses the shift in focus, whether intentional or not, in a post 9/11 world.
“As we become more distant from it, I think it’s more difficult to understand the sort of explosion of anxiety that occurred in the wake of [9/11]…” Brown said. “With that in mind I thought about … how are people coping? How are people working through their feelings? And I think one way was by reading other people’s accounts, other people’s life stories. Even if they weren’t about 9/11 per say, and a lot of them weren’t … even if they’re not dealing with 9/11 specifically, I felt they really were born out of that cultural moment and negotiating with these issues of vulnerability and anxiety and identity.”
Brown said since she started teaching at Drake she found a new interest in autobiographical topics and picked up teaching several classes focusing on the discipline.
Brown started at Drake in 2005w and picked up autobiography classes in 2006.
“… In reading a lot of memoirs with my students and in the process of planning my courses, I realized some very broad trends, particularly ones that were written by fairly contemporary American authors,” Brown said. “The trend I noticed most was that a lot of these memoir writers seemed to be struggling with and processing issues of identity and having anxieties about issues of identity.”
Brown referenced popular books such as Cheryl Strayed’s “Wild” and James Frey’s “A Million Little Pieces” that contributed to her understanding of the new kind of autobiography that dealt with issues of anxieties. She felt those stemmed from living after 9/11.
She also said one of the essays she teaches in her classes, Tom Junod’s “The Falling Man” was always part of her curriculum that she questioned pulling due to its upsetting details about 9/11, but always kept it and found that it prompted important discussions with her students.
“If it weren’t for many conversations with my students, I’m not sure the book would have happened,” Brown said. “I’m tremendously grateful to the students who were in my seminars over the years… for their insights on why they read memoir, what they think the effects of memoir are in the world. In fact, the last chapter of the book quotes from a number of my students over the years from their written work and conversations with them. I’m really glad that that’s in there and I still like when I’m writing about these things to pull in student work whenever I can.”
American Autobiography After 9/11 is out now and will be available at Cowles Library for students to access soon.