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The ABC of Modern Biography
Nigel Hamilton
Amsterdam University Press, 2018
In this book - an ABC of the genre, with 26 entries - two renowned biographers and teachers take us on a tour, from A for Authorization to Z for Zigzagging to the End. In trenchant, witty entries they explore the good, the bad and the plain ugly in modern 'life writing' and the portrayal of real lives today - and how, across history and continents, we got here. This book will fascinate general readers interested in how real lives are approached by biographers today in a multitude of media. It will make a much-needed contribution in academia, as well as providing an important text for students of history, language and literature, the arts, science and media. And, not least, for biographers trying to avoid the pitfalls of ignorance or ineptitude.
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front cover of The ABC of Modern Biography
The ABC of Modern Biography
Nigel Hamilton
Amsterdam University Press, 2018
In this book - an ABC of the genre, with 26 entries - two renowned biographers and teachers take us on a tour, from A for Authorization to Z for Zigzagging to the End. In trenchant, witty entries they explore the good, the bad and the plain ugly in modern 'life writing' and the portrayal of real lives today - and how, across history and continents, we got here.This book will fascinate general readers interested in how real lives are approached by biographers today in a multitude of media. It will make a much-needed contribution in academia, as well as providing an important text for students of history, language and literature, the arts, science and media. And, not least, for biographers trying to avoid the pitfalls of ignorance or ineptitude.
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American Autobiography after 9/11
Megan Brown
University of Wisconsin Press, 2017
In the wake of the 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States, American memoirists have wrestled with a wide range of anxieties in their books. They cope with financial crises, encounter difference, or confront norms of identity. Megan Brown contends that such best sellers as Cheryl Strayed’s Wild, Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love, and Tucker Max’s I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell teach readers how to navigate a confusing, changing world.
            This lively and theoretically grounded book analyzes twenty-first-century memoirs from Three Cups of Tea to Fun Home, emphasizing the ways in which they reinforce and circulate ideologies, becoming guides or models for living. Brown expands her inquiry beyond books to the autobiographical narratives in reality television and political speeches. She offers a persuasive explanation for the memoir boom: the genre as a response to an era of uncertainty and struggle.
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Apology to Apostrophe
Autobiography and the Rhetoric of Self-Representation in Spain
James D. Fernandez
Duke University Press, 1992
Who writes "I"? To whom are autobiographies addressed? What kinds of readers are inscribed in autobiographical narratives? In Apology to Apostrophe, James D. Fernández's offers a lucid and powerful meditation on the nature of autobiographical writing through his investigation of the historical conditions and literary stagings of autobiographical writing in Spain.
As Fernández demonstrates, recent developments in critical theory provide new and fruitful approaches to autobiographical works that have long been neglected, misunderstood, or, in some cases, virtually unknown. Focusing primarily but not exclusively on nineteenth-century Spain, Fernández exposes a rhetorical tension that often occurs in autobiographical discourse, between self-justification, or "apology," and the transcendence of this worldly impulse, or "apostrophe." This tension, he argues, is of particular interest in the case of Spain, but not peculiar to that nation, and his attention to the theoretical nature of autobiography leads to insightfl considerations of many canonical European autobiographies, including those of Saint Augustine, Rousseau, Saint Teresa, and Cardinal Newman.
Considering Spanish autobiography in the context of first-person narrative in Europe and in the terms of current debates on the relationship between writing and selfhood, Apology to Apostrophe marks a significant advance in our historical understanding and critical discussion of the genre. The book will be of great value not only to Hispanists but also to those interested in autobiography and cultural history.
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Back Talk
Teaching Lost Selves to Speak
Joan Weimer
University of Chicago Press, 1996
Joan Weimer had spent three years researching the life of nineteenth-century novelist Constance Fenimore Woolson for a critical biography when a devastating back injury left her virtually immobile. Pain reshaped her research as she discovered more about Woolson's writing, family, and grief. The imaginative relationship she developed with Woolson—chronicled in this heart-felt book— helped Weimer to escape her physical disability as she wrestled with the question of how to redefine herself.

In this elegant, humorous, and brutally frank memoir, Weimer's discoveries—documentative and imaginative, historical and personal—reveal much about what motivates research, and what motivates healing.
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Biographical Passages
Essays on Victorian and Modernist Biography
Edited by Joe Law & Linda K. Hughes
University of Missouri Press, 2000

In the last two decades, biographies have grown in popularity, often eclipsing the novel in sales and accessibility to specialists and the general public alike. Widely regarded as a distinctly modern form, today's biographies are marked by their willingness to "tell all" or to pursue overt political aims. But how new, how unprecedented, are today's biographies? Biographical Passages addresses this important question by juxtaposing Victorian and Modernist biography from diverse perspectives.

Challenging the view that modern biographies are radically different from the straitlaced and ponderous Victorian tomes, Joe Law and Linda K. Hughes illustrate that continuities in biographical practice do exist, proving, for example, that the "tell-all" biography is not the exclusive preserve of the twentieth century. Enlisting the talents of such acclaimed biographers and scholars as P. N. Furbank and Michael Holroyd, Biographical Passages is a true exploration of the art and craft of biography. Essays on the usefulness of biography in approaching late Victorian artists provide a detailed scrutiny of modern biography across disciplines and from a rich array of vantage points. Additional essays on E. M. Forster and the relations between England and India analyze the role of cultural difference in biography.

Law and Hughes conclude Biographical Passages with an epilogue in tribute to a scholar whose work is closely connected to all the essays in this collection—Mary Lago. Widely known for her important contributions to studies of late Victorian and Edwardian literature, art, music, and Anglo-Indian relations, Lago is the author of biographies of Christina Herringham and E. M. Forster.

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Biography
Nigel Hamilton
Harvard University Press, 2010

For thousands of years we have recorded real lives--the lives of others, and of ourselves. For what purpose and for whom has this universal and timeless pursuit endured? What obstacles have lain in the path of biographers in the past, and what continues to confound biographers today? Above all, how is it that biographies and autobiographies play such a contested, popular role in contemporary Western culture, from biopics to blogs, from memoir to docudrama?

Award-winning biographer and teacher Nigel Hamilton addresses these questions in an incisive and vivid narrative that will appeal to students of human nature and self-representation across the arts and sciences. Tracing the remarkable and often ignored historical evolution of biography from the ancient world to the present, this brief and fascinating tour of the genre conveys the passionate quest to capture the lives of individuals and the many difficulties it has entailed through the centuries. From the Epic of Gilgamesh to American Splendor, from cuneiform to the Internet, from commemoration to deconstruction, from fiction to fact--by way of famous biographical artists such as Plutarch, Saint Augustine, Sir Walter Raleigh, Samuel Johnson, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Lord Byron, Sigmund Freud, Lytton Strachey, Abel Gance, Virginia Woolf, Leni Riefenstahl, Orson Welles, Julian Barnes, Ted Hughes, Frank McCourt, and many others--Nigel Hamilton's Biography: A Brief History will change the way you think about biography and real lives.

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Biography as High Adventure
Life-Writers Speak on Their Art
Stephen B. Oates
University of Massachusetts Press, 1986
In this volume ten distinguished biographers discuss the principles and practices of their craft.
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Building Their Own Waldos
Emerson’s First Biographers and the Politics of Life-Writing in the Gilded Age
Robert D. Habich
University of Iowa Press, 2011
By the end of the nineteenth century, Ralph Waldo Emerson was well on his way to becoming the “Wisest American” and the “Sage of Concord,” a literary celebrity and a national icon. With that fame came what Robert Habich describes as a blandly sanctified version of Emerson held widely by the reading public. Building Their Own Waldos sets out to understand the dilemma faced by Emerson’s early biographers: how to represent a figure whose subversive individualism had been eclipsed by his celebrity, making him less a representative of his age than a caricature of it.
 
Drawing on never-before-published letters, diaries, drafts, business records, and private documents, Habich explores the making of a cultural hero through the stories of Emerson’s first biographers— George Willis Cooke, a minister most recently from Indianapolis who considered himself a disciple; the English reformer and newspaper mogul Alexander Ireland, a friend for half a century; Moncure D. Conway, a Southern abolitionist then residing in London, who called Emerson his “spiritual father and intellectual teacher”; the poet and medical professor Oliver Wendell Holmes, with Emerson a member of Boston’s gathering of literary elite, the Saturday Club; James Elliot Cabot, the family’s authorized biographer, an architect and amateur philosopher with unlimited access to Emerson’s unpublished papers; and Emerson’s son Edward, a physician and painter whose father had passed over him as literary executor in favor of Cabot.
 
Just as their biographies reveal a complex, socially engaged Emerson, so too do the biographers’ own stories illustrate the real-world perils, challenges, and motives of life-writing in the late nineteenth century, when biographers were routinely vilified as ghoulish and disreputable and biography as a genre underwent a profound redefinition. Building Their Own Waldos is at once a revealing look at Emerson’s constructed reputation, a case study in the rewards and dangers of Victorian life-writing, and the story of six authors struggling amidst personal misfortunes and shifting expectations to capture the elusive character of America’s “representative man,” as they knew him and as they needed him to be.
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The Development of Greek Biography
Expanded Edition
Arnaldo Momigliano
Harvard University Press, 1993

Tracing the growth of ancient biography from the fifth century to the first century B.C., Arnaldo Momigliano asks fruitful questions about the origins and development of Greek biography. By clarifying the social and intellectual implications of the fact that the Greeks kept biography and autobiography distinct from historiography, he contributes to an understanding of a basic dichotomy in the Western tradition of historical writing. The Development of Greek Biography is fully annotated, and includes a bibliography designed to serve as an introduction to the study of biography in general.

This classic study is now reissued with the addition of Momigliano’s essay “Second Thoughts on Greek Biography” (1971).

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Double Vision
A Novel
George Garrett
University of Alabama Press, 2007

A shotgun marriage of fact and fiction by one of the most highly regarded writers and teachers of our time

A writer named George Garrett, suffering from double vision as a result of a neurological disorder, is asked to review a recent, first biography of the late Peter Taylor, a renowned writer who has been his long-time friend and neighbor in Charlottesville. Reflecting on their relationship, Garrett conceives of a character—not unlike himself—a writer in his early 70s, ill and suffering from double vision, named Frank Toomer. He gives Toomer a neighbor, a distinguished short story writer named Aubrey Carver.

As the real George Garrett and Peter Taylor are replaced by two very different and imaginary writers, the story becomes a wise and insightful exploration of American literary life, the art of biography, the comical rivalries among writers and academics, notions of success, and the knotty relationship of art to life, fact to fiction, and life to death. Double Vision is a witty tour de force and an elegy for a gifted generation of writers.
 

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Getting A Life
Everyday Uses of Autobiography
Sidonie Smith
University of Minnesota Press, 1996

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How To Do Biography
A Primer
Nigel Hamilton
Harvard University Press, 2012

It is not surprising that biography is one of the most popular literary genres of our day. What is remarkable is that there is no accessible guide for how to write one. Now, following his recent Biography: A Brief History (from Harvard), award-winning biographer and teacher Nigel Hamilton tackles the practicalities of doing biography in this first succinct primer to elucidate the tools of the biographer’s craft.

Hamilton invites the reader to join him on a fascinating journey through the art of biographical composition. Starting with personal motivation, he charts the making of a modern biography from the inside: from conception to fulfillment. He emphasizes the need to know one’s audience, rehearses the excitement and perils of modern research, delves into the secrets of good and great biography, and guides the reader through the essential components of life narrative.

With examples taken from the finest modern biographies, Hamilton shows how to portray the ages of man—birth, childhood, love, life’s work, the evening of life, and death. In addition, he suggests effective ways to start and close a life story. He clarifies the difference between autobiography and memoir—and addresses the sometimes awkward ethical, legal, and personal consequences of truth-telling in modern life writing. He concludes with the publication and reception of biography—its afterlife, so to speak.

Written with humor, insight, and compassion, How To Do Biography is the manual that would-be biographers have long been awaiting.

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How to Make It as a Woman
Collective Biographical History from Victoria to the Present
Alison Booth
University of Chicago Press, 2004
How to Make It as a Woman outlines the history of prosopography or group biography, focusing on the all-female collections that took hold in nineteenth-century Britain and America. The queens, nurses, writers, reformers, adventurers, even assassins in these collective female biographies served as models to guide the moral development of young women. But often these famous historical women presented untrustworthy examples.

Beginning in the fifteenth century with Christine de Pizan, Alison Booth traces the long tradition of this genre, investigating the varied types and stories most often grouped together in illustrated books designed for entertainment and instruction. She claims that these group biographies have been instrumental in constructing modern subjectivities as well as relations among classes, races, and nations.

From Joan of Arc to Virginia Woolf, Booth examines a host of models of womanhood—both bad and good. Incorporating a bibliography that includes more than 900 all-female collections published in English between 1830 and 1940, Booth uses collective biographies to decode the varied advice on how to make it as a woman.
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Making Stars
Biography and Celebrity in Eighteenth-Century Britain
Nora Nachumi
University of Delaware Press, 2022
In bringing biography and celebrity together, the essays in Making Stars interrogate contemporary and current understandings of each. Although biography was not invented in the eighteenth century, the period saw the emergence of works that focus on individuals who are interesting as much, if not more, for their everyday, lived experience than for their status or actions. At the same time, celebrity emerged as public fascination for the private lives of publicly visible individuals. Biography and celebrity are mutually constitutive, but in complex and varied ways that this volume unpacks. Contributors to this volume present us a picture of eighteenth-century celebrity that was mediated across multiple sites, demonstrating that eighteenth-century celebrity culture in Britain was more pervasive, diverse and, in many ways, more egalitarian, than previously supposed.
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Melville Biography
An Inside Narrative
Hershel Parker
Northwestern University Press, 2013

Melville Biography: An Inside Narrative is Hershel Parker’s history of the writing of Melville biographies, enriched by a lifetime of intimate working partnerships with great Melville scholars of different generations and by the author’s experience of successive phases of literary criticism. Throughout this bold book, Hershel Parker champions archival-based biography and the all-but-lost art of embodying such scholarship in literary criticism. First is a mesmerizing autobiographical account of what went into creating the award-winning and comprehensive  Herman Melville: A Biography. Then Parker traces six decades of the “unholy war” waged against biographical scholarship, in which critics repeatedly imposed the theory of organic unity on Melville’s disrupted life—not just on his writings—while truncating his body of work and ignoring his study of art and aesthetics. In this connection, Parker celebrates discoveries made by “divine amateurs,” before throwing open his workshop to challenge ambitious readers with research projects. This is a book for Melville fans and Parker fans, as well as for readers, writers, and would-be writers of biography.

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Minor Re/Visions
Asian American Literacy Narratives as a Rhetoric of Citizenship
Morris Young
Southern Illinois University Press, 2004

Through a blend of personal narrative, cultural and literary analysis, and discussions about teaching, Minor Re/Visions: Asian American Literacy Narratives as a Rhetoric of Citizenship shows how people of color use reading and writing to develop and articulate notions of citizenship. Morris Young begins with a narration of his own literacy experiences to illustrate the complicated relationship among literacy, race, and citizenship and to reveal the tensions that exist between competing beliefs and uses of literacy among those who are part of dominant American culture and those who are positioned as minorities.

Influenced by the literacy narratives of other writers of color, Young theorizes an Asian American rhetoric by examining the rhetorical construction of American citizenship in works such as Richard Rodriguez’s Hunger of Memory, Victor Villanueva’s Bootstraps: From an American Academic of Color, Carlos Bulosan’s America Is in the Heart, and Maxine Hong Kingston’s “Song for a Barbarian Reed Pipe” from Woman Warrior. These narratives, Young shows, tell stories of transformation through education, the acquisition of literacy, and cultural assimilation and resistance. They also offer an important revision to the American story by inserting the minor and creating a tension amid dominant discourses about literacy, race, and citizenship. Through a consideration of the literacy narratives of Hawai`i, Young also provides a context for reading literacy narratives as responses to racism, linguistic discrimination, and attempts at “othering” in a particular region.

As we are faced with dominant discourses that construct race and citizenship in problematic ways and as official institutions become even more powerful and prevalent in silencing minor voices, Minor Re/Visions reveals the critical need for revising minority and dominant discourses. Young’s observations and conclusions have important implications for the ways rhetoricians and compositionists read, teach, and assign literacy narratives.

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Minor Salvage
The Korean War and Korean American Life Writings
Stephen Hong Sohn
University of Michigan Press, 2022
The Korean War, often invoked in American culture as “the forgotten war,” remains ongoing. Though active fighting only occurred between 1950 and 1953, the signing of an armistice resulted in an infamous stalemate and the construction of the Korean Peninsula’s Demilitarized Zone. Minor Salvage reads early Korean American life writings in order to explore the admittedly partial ways in which those made precarious by war seek to rebuild their lives. The titular phrase “minor salvage,” draws on different valences of the word salvage which, while initially associated with naval recovery efforts, can also be used to describe the rescue of waste material. Spurred by the stories told and retold to him by his parents Soon Ho and Yunpyo, Sohn enacts minor salvage by reading overlooked early Korean American life writings penned by Induk Pahk, Taiwon Koh, Joseph Anthony, and Kim Yong-ik alongside a later generation of life writings authored by Sunny Che and K. Connie Kang. In the context of the Korean War, Sohn argues, life writings take on a crucial political orientation precisely because of the fragility attached to refugees, civilians, children, women, and divided family members. To depict the possibility of life is to acknowledge simultaneously the threat of death, violence, and brutality, and in this regard, such life writings are part of a longer genealogy in which marginalized communities find representational power through the creative process.
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Recovering Bodies
Illness, Disability, and Life Writing
G. Thomas Couser
University of Wisconsin Press, 1997
    This is a provocative look at writing by and about people with illness or disability—in particular HIV/AIDS, breast cancer, deafness, and paralysis—who challenge the stigmas attached to their conditions by telling their lives in their own ways and on their own terms. Discussing  memoirs, diaries, collaborative narratives, photo documentaries, essays, and other forms of life writing, G. Thomas Couser shows that these books are not primarily records of medical conditions; they are a means for individuals to recover their bodies (or those of loved ones) from marginalization and impersonal medical discourse.
    Responding to the recent growth of illness and disability narratives in the United States—such works as Juliet Wittman’s Breast Cancer Journal, John Hockenberry’s Moving Violations, Paul Monette’s Borrowed Time: An AIDS Memoir, and Lou Ann Walker’s A Loss for Words: The Story of Deafness in a Family—Couser addresses questions of both poetics and politics. He examines why and under what circumstances individuals choose to write about illness or disability; what role plot plays in such narratives; how and whether closure is achieved; who assumes the prerogative of narration; which conditions are most often represented; and which literary conventions lend themselves to representing particular conditions. By tracing the development of new subgenres of personal narrative in our time, this book explores how explicit consideration of illness and disability has enriched the repertoire of life writing. In addition, Couser’s discussion of medical discourse joins the current debate about whether the biomedical model is entirely conducive to humane care for ill and disabled people.
    With its sympathetic critique of the testimony of those most affected by these conditions, Recovering Bodies contributes to an understanding of the relations among bodily dysfunction, cultural conventions, and identity in contemporary America.
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The Rhetorics of Life-Writing in Early Modern Europe
Forms of Biography from Cassandra Fedele to Louis XIV
Thomas Mayer and D. R. Woolf, Editors
University of Michigan Press, 1995
Lives as lived and lives as written are never one and the same. To turn the first into the second one must introduce "fiction" into the "fact" of the actual existence; this is never more true than during the Renaissance, when multiformity was the rule. The Rhetorics of Life-Writing in Early Modern Europe explores the ways in which authors and their subjects constructed images for themselves, and some of the ways in which those images worked.
The volume is especially timely in light of the growing interest in "microhistory," and in the histories that are emerging from nonliterary documents. Chapters consider numerous genres, including hagiography, epistolary and verse biography, and less familiar forms such as parodic prosopography, life-writing in funeral sermons, and comic martyrology.
Contributors to the volume come from history, art history, and literature, and they include F.W. Conrad, Sheila ffolliott, Robert Kolb, James Mehl, Diana Robin, T.C. Price Zimmerman, and Elizabeth Goldsmith and Abby Zanger, among others.
Thomas F. Mayer is Associate Professor of History, Augustana College. D. R. Woolf is Professor of History, Dalhousie University.
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Robert Penn Warren, Shadowy Autobiography, and Other Makers of American Literature
Joseph R. Millichap
University of Tennessee Press, 2021

Toward the end of his career, Robert Penn Warren wrote, “It may be said that our lives are our own supreme fiction.” Although lauded for his writing in multiple genres, Warren never wrote an autobiography. Instead, he created his own “shadowy autobiography” in his poetry and prose, as well as his fiction and nonfiction. As one of the most thoughtful scholars on Robert Penn Warren and the literature of the South, Joseph Millichap builds on the accepted idea that Warren’s poetry and fiction became more autobiographical in his later years by demonstrating that that same progression is replicated in Warren’s literary criticism. This meticulously researched study reexamines in particular Warren’s later nonfiction in which autobiographical concerns come into play—that is, in those fraught with psychological crisis such as Democracy and Poetry.

Millichap reveals the interrelated literary genres of autobiography, criticism, and poetry as psychological modes encompassing the interplay of Warren’s life and work in his later nonfiction. He also shows how Warren’s critical engagement with major American authors often centered on the ways their creative work intersected with their lives, thus generating both autobiographical criticism and the working out of Warren’s own autobiography under these influences. Millichap’s latest book focuses on Warren’s critical responses to William Faulkner, John Crowe Ransom, Herman Melville, Nathaniel Hawthorne, John Greenleaf Whittier, and Theodore Dreiser. In addition, the author carefully considers the black and female writers Warren assessed more briefly in American Literature: The Makers and the Making.

Robert Penn Warren, Shadowy Autobiography, and Other Makers of American Literature presents the breadth of Millichap’s scholarship, the depth of his insight, and the maturity of his judgment, by giving us to understand that in his writing, Robert Penn Warren came to know his own vocation as a poet and critic—and as an American.

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The Russian Memoir
History and Literature
Beth Holmgren
Northwestern University Press, 2007
Throughout the development of modern Russian society, the memoir, with its dual agendas of individualized expression and reliable reportage, has maintained a popular and abiding national genre “contract” between Russian writers and readers. The essays in this volume seek to appreciate the literary construction of this much read, yet little analyzed, form and to explore its functions as interpretive history, social modelling, and political expression in Russian culture.
The memoirs under scrutiny range widely, including those of the “private person” Princess Natalia Dolgorukaia, sophisticated high culture writers (Nikolai Zabolotskii, Vladimir Nabokov, Joseph Brodsky), cultural critics and facilitators (Lidiia Ginzburg, Avdot’ia Panaeva), political dissidents (Evgeniia Ginzburg, Elena Bonner), and popular artists (filmmaker El’dar Riazanov). The contributors examine each memoir for its aesthetic and rhetorical features as well as its cultural circumstances. In mapping the memoir’s social and historical significance, the essays consider a wide range of influences and issues, including the specific impact of the author’s class, gender, ideology, and life experience on his/her “witnessing” of Russian culture and society. These essays also investigate how the memoir is shaped, conceptually and formally, by contemporary notions of history and the individual’s role in making and relaying it.
Overall, this volume shows how the Russian memoir specifically compares with and complements the writing of Russian fiction and Russian history, helping readers to appreciate and interpret the most popular form of authoritative “nonfiction” in modern Russian society.
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Shared Selves
Latinx Memoir and Ethical Alternatives to Humanism
Suzanne Bost
University of Illinois Press, 2019
Memoir typically places selfhood at the center. Interestingly, the genre's recent surge in popularity coincides with breakthroughs in scholarship focused on selfhood in a new way: as an always renewing, always emerging entity. Suzanne Bost draws on feminist and posthumanist ideas to explore how three contemporary memoirists decenter the self. Latinx writers John Rechy, Aurora Levins Morales, and Gloria E. Anzaldúa work in places where personal history intertwines with communities, environments, animals, plants, and spirits. This dedication to interconnectedness resonates with ideas in posthumanist theory while calling on indigenous worldviews. As Bost argues, our view of life itself expands if we look at how such frameworks interact with queer theory, disability studies, ecological thinking, and other fields. These webs of relation in turn mediate experience, agency, and lift itself.A transformative application of posthumanist ideas to Latinx, feminist, and literary studies, Shared Selves shows how memoir can encourage readers to think more broadly and deeply about what counts as human life.
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Studies in Biography
Daniel Aaron
Harvard University Press, 1978
The eleven essays that make up this volume point to some of the new directions biography and biographical criticism have taken in recent years. Among the subjects treated are the responsibilities of the authorized biographer, the practice of biography as it intersects ethnography, biographies of historians by historians, the eulogy as a biographical form, the challenge of rendering the uneventful life, and the biographical implications of a single piece of writing. The essays range from general discussions of biographical aims to fresh examinations of particular biographical works. Despite the diversity of their topics, the authors suggest—if only inadvertently—why so many scholars and writers are taking a biographical approach to human experience.
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Telling Women's Lives
The New Biography
Wagner-Martin, Linda
Rutgers University Press, 1996

Placing herself in the avid reader’s chair, Linda Wagner-Martin writes about women’s biography from George Eliot and Virginia Woolf to Eleanor Roosevelt and Margaret Mead, and even to Cher and Elizabeth Taylor. Along the way, she looks at dozens of other life stories, probing at the differences between biographies of men and women, prevailing stereotypes about women’s lives and roles, questions about what is public and private, and the hazy margins between autobiography, biography, and other genres. In quick paced and wide-ranging discussions, she looks at issues of authorial stance (who controls the narrative? who chooses which story to tell?), voice (is this story told in the traditional objective tone? and if it is, what effect does that telling have on our reading?), and the politics of publishing (why aren’t more books about women’s lives published? and when they are, what happens to their advertising budgets?). She discusses the problems of writing biography of achieving women who were also wives (how does the biographer balance the two?), of daughters who attempt to write about their mothers, and of husbands trying to portray their wives.

Telling Women’s Lives  is the first overview of  the writing and the history of biographies about women. It is a significant contribution to the reassessment of the work of the hundreds of women writers who have made a difference in our conception of what women’s stories--and women’s lives--have been, and are becoming. The book is a must read for anyone who loves reading biographies, particularly biographies of women.

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Templates for Authorship
American Women's Literary Autobiography of the 1930s
Windy Counsell Petrie
University of Massachusetts Press, 2021
As autobiographies by famous women like Eleanor Roosevelt and Amelia Earhart became bestsellers in the 1930s, American publishers sought out literary autobiographies from female novelists, poets, salon hosts, and editors. Templates for Authorship analyzes the market and cultural forces that created an unprecedented boom in American women's literary autobiography.

Windy Counsell Petrie considers twelve autobiographies from a diverse group of writers, ranging from highbrow modernists such as Gertrude Stein and Harriet Monroe to popular fiction writers like Edith Wharton and Edna Ferber, and lesser known figures such as Grace King and Carolyn Wells. Since there were few existing examples of women's literary autobiography, these writers found themselves marketed and interpreted within four cultural templates: the artist, the activist, the professional, and the celebrity. As they wrote their life stories, the women adapted these templates to counter unwanted interpretations and resist the sentimental feminine traditions of previous generations with innovative strategies of deferral, elision, comedy, and collaboration. This accessible study contends that writing autobiography offered each of these writers an opportunity to define and defend her own literary legacy.
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Truth in Nonfiction
Essays
David Lazar
University of Iowa Press, 2008
Even before the controversy that surrounded the publication of A Million Little Pieces, the question of truth has been at the heart of memoir. From Elie Wiesel to Benjamin Wilkomirski to David Sedaris, the veracity of writers’ claims has been suspect. In this fascinating and timely collection of essays, leading writers meditate on the subject of truth in literary nonfiction. As David Lazar writes in his introduction, “How do we verify? Do we care to? (Do we dare to eat the apple of knowledge and say it’s true? Or is it a peach?) Do we choose to? Is it a subcategory of faith? How do you respond when someone says, ‘This is really true’? Why do they choose to say it then?”

The past and the truth are slippery things, and the art of nonfiction writing requires the writer to shape as well as explore. In personal essays, meditations on the nature of memory, considerations of the genres of memoir, prose poetry, essay, fiction, and film, the contributors to this provocative collection attempt to find answers to the question of what truth in nonfiction means.

Contributors: John D’Agata, Mark Doty, Su Friedrich, Joanna Frueh, Ray González, Vivian Gornick, Barbara Hammer, Kathryn Harrison, Marianne Hirsch, Wayne Koestenbaum, Leonard Kriegel, David Lazar, Alphonso Lingis, Paul Lisicky, Nancy Mairs, Nancy K. Miller, Judith Ortiz Cofer, Phyllis Rose, Oliver Sacks, David Shields, and Leo Spitzer
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Tudor Autobiography
Listening for Inwardness
Meredith Anne Skura
University of Chicago Press, 2008
Histories of autobiography in England often assume the genre hardly existed before 1600. But Tudor Autobiography investigates eleven sixteenth-century English writers who used sermons, a saint’s biography, courtly and popular verse, a traveler’s report, a history book, a husbandry book, and a supposedly fictional adventure novel to share the secrets of the heart and tell their life stories.
            In the past such texts have not been called autobiographies because they do not reveal much of the inwardness of their subject, a requisite of most modern autobiographies.  But, according to Meredith Anne Skura, writers reveal themselves not only by what they say but by how they say it. Borrowing methods from affective linguistics, narratology, and psychoanalysis, Skura shows that a writer’s thoughts and feelings can be traced in his or her language. Rejecting the search for “the early modern self” in life writing, Tudor Autobiography instead asks what authors said about themselves, who wrote about themselves, how, and why. The result is a fascinating glimpse into a range of lived and imagined experience that challenges assumptions about life and autobiography in the early modern period.
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With Courage and Common Sense
Memoirs from the Older Women's Legacy Circles
Edited by Susan Wittig Albert and Dayna Finet
University of Texas Press, 2003

Women who were sixty or older at the turn of the twenty-first century have lived through some of recent history's most momentous moments—and yet these women often believe that their personal lives and stories are insignificant, not worthy of being recorded for future generations. To change that perception and capture some of these life stories before they are lost, the Story Circle Network, a national organization dedicated to helping women write about their lives, developed the Older Women's Legacy (OWL) Circle Memoir Workshops. During the first two years of the project (1998-2000), nearly 500 older women participated in workshops that offered them the opportunity and encouragement to reflect on and create written records of their lives.

With Courage and Common Sense presents an extensive selection of memoirs from the OWL Circle project. Organized thematically, they describe women's experiences of identity, place, work, family life, love and marriage, loss and healing, adventures great and small, major historical events, and legacies to keep and pass along. Taken as a whole, the memoirs chronicle far-reaching changes in the ways that women participated in the world during the twentieth century. They show how women learned to surmount obstacles, to courageously make the most of the opportunities that came their way, and to move quietly and wisely beyond the limits that were imposed upon them.

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Writing a Usable Past
Russian Literary Culture, 1917-1937
Angela Brintlinger
Northwestern University Press, 2008

In Writing a Usable Past, Brintlinger considers the interactions of post-Revolutionary Russian and emigre culture with the genre of biography in its various permutations, arguing that in the years after the Revolution, Russian writers looked to the great literary figures of the past to help them construct a post-Revolutionary present. In detailed looks at the biographical writing of Yuri Tynianov, Vladislav Khodasevich, and Mikhail Bulgakov, Brintlinger follows each author's successful biography/ies and their failed attempts at biographies of Alexander Pushkin on the centennial anniversary of his death. Brintlinger compares the Pushkin biographies to the other biographies examined, and in a concluding chapter she considers other, more successful commemorations of the great poet's death. She argues that popular commemorations--exhibits, concerts, special issues of journals--were a more fitting biography than the genre of the "usable past." For post-revolutionary cultural actors, including Tynianov, Khodasevich, and Bulgakov, Pushkin was a symbol rather than a model for constructing that usable past.

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Writing Lives in the Eighteenth Century
Tanya M. Caldwell
Bucknell University Press, 2020
Writing Lives in the Eighteenth Century is a collection of essays on memoir, biography, and autobiography during a formative period for the genre. The essays revolve around recognized male and female figures—returning to the Boswell and Burney circle—but present arguments that dismantle traditional privileging of biographical modes. The contributors reconsider the processes of hero making in the beginning phases of a culture of celebrity. Employing the methodology William Godwin outlined for novelists of taking material “from all sources, experience, report, and the records of human affairs,” each contributor examines within the contexts of their time and historical traditions the anxieties and imperatives of the auto/biographer as she or he shapes material into a legacy. New work on Frances Burney D’Arblay’s son, Alexander, as revealed through letters; on Isabelle de Charriere; on Hester Thrale Piozzi; and on Alicia LeFanu and Frances Burney’s realignment of family biography extend current conversations about eighteenth century biography and autobiography.

Published by Bucknell University Press. Distributed worldwide by Rutgers University Press.
 
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