Looking Back, Looking Forward: Discussing the History and Future of the Field with Craig Howes

In preparation for this summer’s IABA regional conferences, SNS interviewed Professor Craig Howes about the history, present, and future(s) of the field.

Student and New Scholar Network (SNS): Now that a number of the originating voices in the field of life narrative studies, as it’s now called, have retired or are in the process of retiring, how does a retrospective of the field appear to you? How might a retrospective of the IABA community appear to you as well?

Craig Howes (CH): Well, for starters, I suppose I should probably think about retiring myself, because I didn’t know that we had shifted from life writing to life narrative studies. But given the increasing interest in graphic texts, virtually everything online, and the intense engagements with different kinds of representative hybrids, I heartily approve of the new label. (Although to be bothersome, I wonder about “narrative,” partially due to Lauren Berlant’s call to us at the IABA International conference in Sussex in 2010 to think more about the “life” part of our terms, and partially due to my own questions, stimulated by Marlene Kadar’s earlier work, and Anna Poletti’s more recent thoughts, about how much sequence is actually necessary for something to be a “narrative.”)

As for my retrospective gaze, I came into the field in between points of origin. Although the journal Biography started publishing in 1978, and prophetically as an interdisciplinary quarterly, the body of work that coalesced into a recognizable life writing field in North America was primarily being developed by those who came to be associated with the journal A/B: Auto/Biography Studies, and in Europe and elsewhere with path-breaking scholarship on working class autobiography, testimonio, diary studies, sociological approaches to narrative, and so on. Continue reading “Looking Back, Looking Forward: Discussing the History and Future of the Field with Craig Howes”


Deviant Women: An Interview with Lauren Butterworth and Alicia Carter

Lauren Butterworth and Alicia Carter, hosts of Deviant Women podcast, discuss collaboration, the podcasting community, and the importance of women’s stories.

You can thank us later, because we’ve found your new favourite podcast. Deviant Women is created by two Australian writers, Lauren Butterworth and Alicia Carter (pronounced A-liss-ee-ah, not A-lee-sha), who are highlighting the lives and stories of extraordinary women in history and literature using the aural medium of the podcast, which is seeing a surge in popularity as well as critical and scholarly attention.

Deviant Women is a “chumcast”—a style of podcast “in which two experts or pals riff on a theme” (McHugh 105). In this case, Alicia and Lauren are both experts and pals. Alicia is currently completing her PhD in creative writing, and Lauren is an early career researcher in literary studies and creative writing. Both of them research representations of femininity in history and stories, and they also create their own representations in their fiction.

We were lucky enough to ask Lauren and Alicia about how and why they started the podcast, their strategies for functional and fun collaboration, and what they really mean when they use the term “deviant” to talk about women’s histories and representation! Continue reading “Deviant Women: An Interview with Lauren Butterworth and Alicia Carter”


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”


Beginnings: IABA Asia-Pacific, An SNS Interview with Kate Douglas

In a conversation with Kate Douglas, an Associate Professor at Flinders University of South Australia and member of the IABA Executive Group, we discuss Locating Lives: The Inaugural Conference for the IABA Asia-Pacific Chapter. We recently got the chance to ask Kate about the conference, the new Asia-Pacific Chapter, and what she’s been reading!

IABA Asia-Pacific Chapter

SNS Network: Flinders University is a hub of auto/biography scholarship—can you tell us a little bit about some of the activities that the Flinders Life Narrative Research Group has organised, and any upcoming events?

Kate Douglas: The research group grew because we had strong scholars to build it around. Kylie Cardell and I were very fortunate to have a wonderful group of postgraduates (including Emma Maguire and Pamela Graham) who were keen to engage in research and professional activities with us, and also strongly support the teaching of life writing at Flinders. So, we’ve held events (for example, the “Telling Tales: Autobiographies of Childhood and Youth” symposium in 2012) and worked on publications (including a special issue of Prose Studies and an edited collection for Routledge) and the field of study goes from strength to strength which is super exciting for us. Continue reading “Beginnings: IABA Asia-Pacific, An SNS Interview with Kate Douglas”


Wellness through Womyn’s Circle

In this post, Tala Khanmalek and Maria Faini discuss wellness, self care, safe spaces, discourses on ability, and political praxis made possible through a co-creative healing circle.

Womyn's Circle Image.jpg
Cover image of the book collection emerging from Womyn’s Circle (Artist: Michelle Robinson)

Wellbeing: creating Womyn’s Circle

Maria Faini (MF): What originally led you to form the womyn’s circle? What needs (graduate school or community related) compelled you to begin the process and what did you originally imagine for the circle?

Tala Khanmalek (TK): I was diagnosed with a brain tumor after my first year of grad school. I opted out of pharmaceuticals in hopes of a more holistic treatment plan and immediately encountered two major problems: student health insurance doesn’t cover “alternative medicine” of any kind and regardless, student health centers aren’t equipped to address health issues that require specialized care. I was in a situation where I was dependent on the university for healthcare services yet it totally and completely, not to mention disgracefully, failed to be an adequate provider. I might have taken a leave of absence if I wasn’t also dependent on the university for health insurance and financial aid, both of which I desperately needed now that health-related expenses were a part of my everyday life. With my wellbeing on the line, I needed a solution quick and fast. In addition to scrounging for community-based resources in the East Bay as well as learning about and becoming involved in the local healing justice movement, I decided to gather the community of womyn I already knew. While I originally imagined for us to simply share experiential knowledge about self-care, the sheer and incredibly palpable necessity of the exchange led me to host and eventually create a loose structure for a monthly meeting at my studio apartment. What started because of a personal crisis immediately transformed into an urgent community-care demand, if you will, which (of course) inevitably led us to consider the social factors impacting our wellbeing, especially since womyn of color comprised a majority of the group. Continue reading “Wellness through Womyn’s Circle”


Current Tides: Reflections on Trends in Life Writing Scholarship, An SNS Interview with John Zuern – Part 3

In this final section of the interview, John Zuern responds to our prompt “the future of life writing in relation to…” and shares his thoughts on curation, post-humanism, interfaces, land, and unsettling.

For this third and final part of our interview series with John we had a keyword exercise similar to what we find in American/cultural studies. The idea behind this format is to generate an associative response focused on where the field might be heading in terms of scholarly methods, approaches and questions, as well as how creative life writing practices are shaping the discourse.

Life Writing Keywords 


“The future of life writing in relation to…”

curate (or perform, or performance)

Like the preponderance of visual modes of representation in social media, the phenomenon of curation as a form of self-representation challenges conventional disciplinary conceptions of a “text” and the corresponding methods of reading and interpretation, so it’s a very fruitful domain for life writing scholarship.

I know Laurie McNeill is working on Pinterest and similar sites—she presented some of it at MLA in 2013. Curation is a kind of performance, as you suggest, insofar as meaning comes more from what curators do than from what they say, and the performances are sometimes captivating and even addicting. I admit that I check Twitter pretty much every day to see what Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings has on offer. One of her tweets once directed me to a scan of the program for the 1937 fiesta celebrating the opening of the Golden Gate Bridge, which I passed along to a friend of mine, the artist Allyn Bromley, who attended the event as a little girl. Continue reading “Current Tides: Reflections on Trends in Life Writing Scholarship, An SNS Interview with John Zuern – Part 3”


Current Tides: Reflections on Trends in Life Writing Scholarship, An SNS Interview with John Zuern – Part 2

In the second section of our interview, John Zuern reflects on methods, collaboration, and (inter)disciplinarity.

Read the second part of our interview series with John as we explore reflections on method, collaboration, and (inter)disciplinarity which inform our previous discussion on Digital Life.


On Precarity and Responsibility

 SNS Network: We are most interested in your recent work on post-2008 financial crash memoirs, particularly your focus on the intersection between exceptionality and exemplarity in crisis writing and its implications for more collective, transformative socialities. In what ways is the memoir genre especially generative for these transitions and emergent sensibilities (and is “sensibilities” the term you would use)? Following some of our questions above, what other methods of life writing as well as scholarship production disrupt or produce the possibility of departure from what you’re reading as neo-liberal selfhood?
John Zuern: I’ve already said some things about this project in my answer to the question about ethics, but I’ll try to respond to some of the specific points you raise in this one. I got obsessed with the financial crisis as it was unfolding and did a lot of initially random reading about it. I pretty quickly started to notice that a lot of the stuff I was finding fell roughly into the “life writing” category, whether it was a blog like Stephanie Alison Walker’s Love in the Time of Foreclosure or Mark Seal’s series on the Bernard Madoff scandal in Vanity Fair Continue reading “Current Tides: Reflections on Trends in Life Writing Scholarship, An SNS Interview with John Zuern – Part 2”

Current Tides: Reflections on Trends in Life Writing Scholarship, An SNS Interview with John Zuern – Part 1

John Zuern, co-editor of Biography, reflects on current trends in life writing scholarship, selfies, digital ethics, and the upcoming issue of Biography, “Online Lives 2.0.”

John David Zuern is co-editor of Biography: An Interdisciplinary Quarterly and an associate professor in the department of English at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. With Laurie McNeill, he is currently editing a special issue of Biography titled “Online Lives 2.0,” which follows the journal’s 2003 “Online Lives” special issue. He has recently published on electronic poetry in Comparative Textual Media: Transforming the Humanities in the Postprint Era (2013), the life writing of Louis Althusser in Life Writing (2011), and a critical history of the networking company Cisco Systems in the volume Cultural Critique and the Global Corporation (Indiana UP, 2010).

Orly Lael Netzer, Maria Faini, and Emma Maguire have been fortunate to converse with John by email, reflecting on trends in life writing scholarship. Our correspondence has been so productive that we are happy to share it as a series, beginning with Part One: Digital Life. Continue reading “Current Tides: Reflections on Trends in Life Writing Scholarship, An SNS Interview with John Zuern – Part 1”


A Body Politic: An Interview with Virgie Tovar

Virgie Tovar is a woman of color feminist whose projects foster body-positiveTovar1 communities. Based in the California Bay Area, Virgie is an activist, scholar, and writer with a global readership, who regularly deploys personal narrative in her political work. Her edited collection Hot and Heavy: Fierce Fat Girls on Life, Love and Fashion (2012) has served as a groundbreaking, foundational text for the body-positive movement; it includes personal stories about living in the intersections of fat phobia, racism, and sexism. Her recently launched “Lose Hate Not Weight” Campaign, which focuses on “unlearning self-loathing and practicing self-loving,” has continued to transform the politics and projects of fat activism.
We are drawn to Virgie’s work in part because we read it as political practice that posits life writing as a compelling tool. We have been fortunate to converse with Virgie over the past few weeks, our discussions happening through email and in person. Continue reading “A Body Politic: An Interview with Virgie Tovar”