Crossing the Void: The Constructive Wilderness that Is Post-Submission

Sarah Lightman presents the experience of the void from the perspective of a woman who also happens to be a successful cartoonist and a mother. Having just submitted her PhD thesis, Sarah explains how she balances the needs of her son, her artistic creativity, and her scholarly output. 

It has been three months since I submitted my thesis, Dressing Eve and other Reparative Acts in Women’s Autobiographical Comics, to the University of Glasgow. Since then, my busyness has been tempered by the sense of a vacuum, or, rather, a space of gestation. And in this no-woman’s-land before graduation, I have a thesis written, but not published; submitted, but not viva-ed; and I am still a student, yet am not studying. But I also planned in advance for this time, with a lSarah Lightman Drawingong list of academic and non-academic projects: books to co-edit, journal articles to finish, a beginner’s yoga class to attend, contemporary galleries to visit, and a CD of children’s songs to record for our synagogue. I have done some teaching and I continue to work with Nicola Streeten, and others, on Laydeez Do Comics, the foremost comic forum in the UK now, with branches worldwide, and I host in my home an artist salon, Salon 16, for women artists. In addition, my home life makes continuous demands on me. I still have to make breakfast and a packed lunch for my three-year-old son, and keep ahead of all his plans for the upcoming term – football, ballet, and a flu injection. So, whilst the PhD was a project, a big, important, time-greedy self-development project, it was never my whole life, and its completion would not leave me bereft. Continue reading “Crossing the Void: The Constructive Wilderness that Is Post-Submission”


Importance of Community and Perseverance While Riding on the PhD Boat

Ozlem Ezer writes of her experiences of both the PhD process and the post-submission period in Canada, the US, Cyprus, and Sweden, stressing the usefulness of supportive communities in these two periods. Describing her journey through the PhD and “across the void,” she explains that it is okay to stop, to take breaks, to experiment, and to realize in the process what works best for you. 

Let me be clear: I have been skeptical about “support groups” since watching Fight Club (1999) and laughing out loud. I started my PhD at York University (Toronto) in Fall 2002 and became increasingly involved in North American society since then, only to find out that support groups were really part of this culture and their extent still surpassed my imagination. In 2004, my partner and I moved to Naperville, a suburb of Chicago, where he began his full-time academic post at a community college. We didn’t know anybody in the area. I lost my York-based feminist academic circle and felt like a fish out of water. In fact, I remember coming up with a penguin metaphor in my diary. York was the sea, where I could swim fast (I finished my course work and comprehensive exams all in one year), but I was wobbling like a penguin on land in Naperville. One day, I received an email about an ABD [all-but-dissertation] support group, whose members are writing their dissertations in gender and women’s studies programs. I remembered Fight Club. I can’t recall the reasons but the support group wasn’t formed or gathered regularly. However, Michelle Morkert, a young, bright feminist ABD reached out to me, and drove to Naperville to meet me in a coffeeshop called Arbor Vitae (Tree of Life), where our friendship began. Her presence and our conversations meant a lot, and made me realize how crucial it was to have people who share the similar experiences with you. We built a strong bond despite the years and we both believe in the significance of women’s support of each other in academia as well as in other fields of life. Continue reading “Importance of Community and Perseverance While Riding on the PhD Boat”


Crossing the Void: Work Worth Doing, or How I Learned to Love the Void

Kate Browne tells how her PhD work on autobiographical dieting practices, weight loss success stories, and food journaling have influenced her online teaching and her own Facebook “autobiography-in-action.” Introducing her project, Taking Up Space, she explains how she sees her activism as a form of teaching outside academia. 

I defended my dissertation in March. In August of the same year, I decided that I would not put myself “on the market” this year, or perhaps in any other year. I blame my dissertation.

In my dissertation, I argue that autobiographical practices of dieting, which include weight loss success stories and food journaling, teach people how to live. I based my argument on Foucauldian notions of self-writing, self-care and surveillance, and put these ideas in conversation with theories from life writing, fat studies, and crip theory. My final chapter argued that teaching body-based autobiography in the undergraduate classroom can help students act as agents in their own learning processes and strengthen their self-advocacy skills. As you might imagine, critical pedagogy features prominently in this work. Throughout my dissertation, I emphasize that learning happens outside the classroom all the time and that autobiography as a site of everyday teaching and learning how to live has a substantial impact on interpersonal relationships, cultural expectations, and socialization. Continue reading “Crossing the Void: Work Worth Doing, or How I Learned to Love the Void”


On Mentorship and Godparents: An SNS Interview with Lisa Ortiz-Vilarelle

Lisa Ortiz-Vilarelle, Associate Professor at The College of New-Jersey, discusses life after the PhD, the transition to the professoriate, and the expectations set on emerging scholars, but most of all, on continuous mentorship in academic lives.

Maria and Orly first met with Lisa when the three presented on a panel at the IABA Americas Conference in 2015. The energizing, generous, caring, and committed energy of that panel stayed with us, to the extent that for the next two years we kept thinking together. Maria and Orly are wholeheartedly thankful to Lisa who agreed to share parts of the following conversation which was threaded in different locations across the Atlantic.

Resonating Conversations

Our interview with Lisa Ortiz-Vilarelle began on a walk in Nicosia (during IABA 2016 in Cyprus). That walk sparked a conversation between Maria and Lisa about life after the PhD, the transition to the tenure track and professionalizing demands set on emerging scholars (during grad school as well as the tenure track). 

Lisa: During that conversation, Maria shared her deep concerns over the academic job market as well as her struggle through a health crisis the year before. This led to the question of personal obstacles. She asked me to elaborate (if I was comfortable doing so) on what I faced when I was ready to graduate and was curious about how I identified and worked through these obstacles. Continue reading “On Mentorship and Godparents: An SNS Interview with Lisa Ortiz-Vilarelle”


The Ethical Complexity of Collaboration: An SNS Roundtable Review – IABA Europe 2017

Ana Horvat reflects on the SNS “Collaboration” Roundtable at the 2017 IABA Europe conference.

This year’s IABA Europe conference focused on the intersections of life writing and new media in European and global contexts. The conference featured diverse takes on new media including diaries and Instagram, the digital footprints as memoir, migrant subjectivity and smartphones, and digital biographies of literary figures. The issue of collaboration most prominently came up in several presentations on migration and refugee life narratives and this focus continued in the the Life Writing Graduate Student and New Scholar Network (SNS) roundtable on collaboration (see full list of the roundtable’s abstracts and speaker bios here) which was chaired by Emma Maguire (Flinders University). Some of the issues raised were life after the PhD and the necessity of collaboration among young academics and more established professors, collaborative memoir-writing, negotiating translations of life stories, and collaborative making of refugee narratives. Continue reading “The Ethical Complexity of Collaboration: An SNS Roundtable Review – IABA Europe 2017”


Re-evaluating the Politics of Collaboration: An SNS Roundtable Review – IABA Americas 2017

Amanda Spallacci reviews SNS’s “Collaboration” roundtable at the 2017 IABA Americas Conference. 

The International Auto/Biography Association 2017 Americas conference honoured Marlene Kadar, who has been instrumental in establishing the field of life writing, particularly, by nuancing issues around gender, genre, trauma, archival methodologies, and transnationalism. Much of Kadar’s research and publications are co-authored and co-edited, from Photographs, Histories, and Meanings with Jeanne Perreault and Linda Warley to Tracing the Autobiographical with Susanna Egan, Jeanne Perreault, and Linda Warley; and so, it only seemed natural that an overarching theme investigated throughout the conference was collaboration.

Continue reading “Re-evaluating the Politics of Collaboration: An SNS Roundtable Review – IABA Americas 2017”


SNS Roundtable: Collaboration (2017-2018)

Each bi-annual cycle IABA SNS hosts a series of roundtable events at regional and global IABA conferences. The series invites emerging or established scholars, activists, and practitioners to engage in a key-word-based multi-disciplinary discussion. Participants share a 5-minute presentation that takes up the keyword from a theoretical, methodological, creative, pedagogic, or political perspectives.

Following the success of “Unsettle,” SNS centred our second roundtable event around the notion of “Collaboration.” The discussion series took place during the 2017 regional IABA events (Americas, Europe, and Asia-Pacific) and will culminate at the next IABA World conference in Brazil in 2018. Continue reading “SNS Roundtable: Collaboration (2017-2018)”


Crossing the Void: Life After the PhD

This new blog series, edited by Olga Michael, addresses the challenges facing scholars upon completion of their graduate degrees. The series invites emerging and established scholars to share their experiences and advice, joining us in a conversation that devises strategies to cross the void.

It is a truism to say that a PhD is a difficult process. Indeed, we become so immersed in writing it and thinking about its completion that we might forget what comes next. The post-submission and post-viva periods are very peculiar because one enters a realization phase in which they need to come to terms with the fact that they are entering the “real world” and the struggle for job security, which is becoming more and more far-fetched in academia. Leaping from the PhD to the next stage can entail disappointment, frustration and anxiety.

This blog series is about sharing our experiences of this leap. Since we are all scholars in the field of life writing, we believe that to write about this period of our lives, daunting as it might have been or continues to be, can have positive outcomes. Writing about this struggle can help current PhD students understand what the next stage entails and thus better prepare for it. It can provide both students and early-career researchers with examples of professional pathways that do not necessarily include an academic job, familiarize them with the pitfalls of non-tenure academic positions, and provide access to our thoughts and feelings as we experience this unstable stage. Continue reading “Crossing the Void: Life After the PhD”


Playing with Self-Narrative: The Interactive (Non)Fiction of Depression Quest

Adan Jerreat-Poole reflects on how select game designers are coding their life experiences into games, while players are actively playing their personal stories into existence. She focuses on Zoe Quinn’s Depression Quest as both an expression of the creator’s subjective experience of mental illness and an interactive medium that allows mad players to choose-their-own-life-narrative about depression.

“This is an amalgamation of the experiences of the developers and several people close to them,” announces the introductory page to Depression Quest (2013) a text-based empathy role-playing game (RPG) that uses interactive (non)fiction to introduce players to the lived realities of mental illness. This game is widely accessible to a public with internet access; it is free to play online and available on Steam. Depression Quest is part of an emerging genre of self-narrative which I refer to as “life-gaming”: a set of practices that includes both the process of creating games with autobiographical elements, and gamers performing self-narrative through play. Playing with self-narrative is reminiscent of what Julie Rak calls “automedia” or “automediality” and identifies as an autobiographical practice in her discussion of The Sims 3 (2015).

Scholars have coined the term “memoir boom” to describe the rise in popularity of self-narrative in the 21st century (Yagoda 2009; Couser 2012; Rak 2013). The popularity of print memoir has been accompanied by a dramatic increase in online life-writing, which Laurie McNeill (2014) and others refer to as the “memoir boom 2.0.” In Identity Technologies (Ed. Poletti and Rak 2014), McNeill and other scholars discuss a range of memoir 2.0 forms, including social media platforms such as Facebook, The Six Word Memoir, PostSecret and PatientsLikeMe. As another emerging digital genre of auto/biography, life-gaming could be understood as an integral part of this trend. Sarah Gibbons (2015) writes that disability empathy RPGs function as “educational and experiential tools designed to help non-disabled individuals understand disability” (26), and, according to Ian Bogost (2011), these games “foster empathy for…real-world situations” (19). Because of the interactive nature of the medium, the game places an onus of responsibility on the player, who becomes partially accountable for the narrative outcomes through the choices s/he makes. In Depression Quest, which explores the subjective experience of depression, the ethics of decision-making and the affective grammar of the game create an experience of what Katie Salen and Eric Zimmerman refer to as “meaningful play” (2003) and Mary Flanagan terms “critical play” (2009). Continue reading “Playing with Self-Narrative: The Interactive (Non)Fiction of Depression Quest”


Locating Lives: The IABA Asia-Pacific Inaugural Conference

Emma Maguire reviews Locating Lives, IABA Asia-Pacific chapter’s inaugural conference.

Locating Lives, the inaugural conference for the IABA Asia-Pacific chapter took place in Adelaide, South Australia from 1-3 December, 2015. The conference was co-organised by Associate Professor Kate Douglas and Dr. Kylie Cardell, both of Flinders University, and featured keynotes by Professor Gillian Whitlock (University of Queensland), Professor Craig Howes (University of Hawai’i), and Australian author Benjamin Law. Continue reading “Locating Lives: The IABA Asia-Pacific Inaugural Conference”