Review of The Book of Sarah, by Sarah Lightman

Olga Michael reviews Sarah Lightman’s recently published The Book of Sarah (2019), a brilliant graphic memoir about (“failed”) motherhood, family bonds, Jewishness, belonging and exclusion, trauma and survival, mental illness and healing.

Women’s autobiographical comics first emerged in the US counter-cultural underground scene with Aline Kominsky-Crumb’s work (see Chute 20-27). During the turn of the twenty-first century, we have witnessed a maturation of the genre through the circulation of such texts in book form, and their re-branding as women’s graphic memoirs. Alison Bechdel, Phoebe Gloeckner and Lynda Barry are three among many brilliant female cartoonists, whose works display each artist’s negotiation of issues like problematic intergenerational family relations, parental neglect, sexual and other forms of trauma, and the survival of such traumas. With her recently published graphic memoir, The Book of Sarah (2019), Sarah Lightman, a London-based comics artist and scholar, has established herself within this continuously expanding group of brilliant women cartoonists, whose valuable work can help readers better understand distinctly female experiences of (“failed”) motherhood, belonging and exclusion, trauma and survival, and mental illness and healing.

Continue reading “Review of The Book of Sarah, by Sarah Lightman”

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)”


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”


Pedagogical and Methodological Ruptures at IABA Americas

Maria Faini and Orly Lael Netzer review the SNS “Unsettle” Roundtable discussion at the 2015 IABA Americas Conference.

Emily Johnston began the Americas roundtable by situating POP!, the performative and experimental phenomenon of male pregnancy, as an autobiographical performance that troubles the idea of bodies as truth-telling and natural. She explained that POP! reveals pregnancy to be a fiction. Engaging queer theory, Emily looked at the ways the performance of achieving desired bodily changes challenges more normative ecocritical and environmental justice discourses on biopollutant exposure.

Following Emily, Eva Karpinski spoke about the part-time, contractual struggle in the academic workforce and its implications for a right to education as a practice of active citizenship. She focused on the graduate instructor strikes during the winter term of 2015 at the University of Toronto and York University, reflecting on the radical pedagogical potential encompassed in campus labor activism. She outlined ways that the students of UT and YU turned a political strike into both experiential education–for example, through ethnographies of strike participants–and performance art as reenactment. She considered both pedagogical and performative strategies necessary for practices of citizenship. Continue reading “Pedagogical and Methodological Ruptures at IABA Americas”


SNS Roundtable: Unsettle (2015-2016)

SNS hosted its first roundtable series at the 2015 IABA regional chapter conferences, with the discussions culminating at the 2016 “Excavating Lives” IABA World Conference in Cyprus.

We chose to focus on the term “unsettle,” as it is understood in the works of settler-scholars Roger Epp and Paulette Regan who address Indigenous-settler relations in Canada. Epp and Regan challenge non-indigenous people, including scholars, to name and transform the settler-colonizing cultures, policies, and legacies within their professional and personal practices. Continue reading “SNS Roundtable: Unsettle (2015-2016)”


LitFest Part 2 – Re-Writing Grief

Karla Comanda on reading through grief and writing from grief in texts that are created in the slippages between fiction, life, and death.

When Glass Buffalo editor Matthew Stepanic sent out an e-mail to the magazine’s contributors, asking if they wanted to be part of Litfest’s CBC Centre Stage Spotlight on Rudy Wiebe, I immediately jumped at the opportunity – nevermind the fact I was mainly writing poetry and had always associated nonfiction with prosaic stylings. However, Matthew assured me that poetry can also be nonfiction, so I was completely on board after that. As an immigrant, I admit that I wasn’t too familiar with Rudy Wiebe’s works and his influence on Alberta’s literary landscape – in fact, that was only the second time I came across his name – so I thought that participating in the event would also be a great learning experience about one of the province’s great authors.

Reading Rudy Wiebe’s new novel, Come Back, proved to be a hard task for me. Loosely based on Wiebe’s personal tragedy, the story follows Hal as he continues to deal with his son Gabe’s suicide through his journals and letters almost 30 years after the event. I first opened the book in early October, which was the same month that my father passed away many years ago; this made identifying with Hal much easier for me although the circumstances of our losses could not be more different. I had to take long breaks from reading the novel because grief was such a prominent theme and because the way Hal dealt with his son’s death – sifting through his words, searching for tangible reminders, recollecting through triggers – hit too close to home for me. Continue reading “LitFest Part 2 – Re-Writing Grief”


LitFest Part 1 – Archive Shock: Adventurous Scholarship in Ted Bishop’s The Social Life of Ink

Niall Fink responds to the launch of Ted Bishop’s The Social Life of Ink, and reflects on travel writing, archival work, creative and scholarly mentorship, and the material connections between academic research and lived experience. 

Ted Bishop’s latest book, The Social Life of Ink, finally launched Wednesday night (Oct 22) Social Life of Inkat the Stanley Milner Theatre in Edmonton. I say finally because it has been more than a decade since his first book, Riding with Rilke, came out and because, personally, I have been waiting at least three years for this second one. In the interest of full disclosure, I should admit first that I can’t write impartially about Ted Bishop’s work. He is a professor at the University of Alberta and he is on my examining committee. Beyond that, I like him. As Todd Babiak, another former student of his, put it on Wednesday, Ted has the remarkable ability to “wear [his] scholarship so lightly.” “Maybe that’s because my scholarship is so light,” was Ted’s reply. It’s hard not to like a teacher like that.

The Social Life of Ink comes out of more than a decade of archival research, which is hardly light scholarship. If there is anything light about his scholarship, it is because he works hard to unburden it from pretensions. Ten years to write a book? Apparently it’s all because he had so much fun travelling around the world to far-flung archives, hunting down the creator of the ballpoint pen or the Chinese poets who courted concubines with their erotic ink-verse. And writing about the adventure was even more fun, worth labouring over for years. At least, that’s the impression that Wednesday night, with its mix of stories and jokes tried for. I’m not convinced. There is more to Ted’s “travel writing” than Indiana Jones meets the English department. Continue reading “LitFest Part 1 – Archive Shock: Adventurous Scholarship in Ted Bishop’s The Social Life of Ink”


Life Writing in the Canadian Rockies

This brief response serves to supplement Seraphima Kennedy’s engaging recap of this year’s conference in sublime Banff with a focus on the graduate student experience.

View from Banff Conference Center
View from Banff Conference Center

The 9th IABA conference was an exciting and productive event for many student attendees. Established professors were generous with their feedback and advice and the social climate was welcoming and relaxed; during down time, many students and new scholars felt comfortable socializing with experienced authors and professors as well as one another. It was clear from the start that grad students are valued participants in the life writing community. Continue reading “Life Writing in the Canadian Rockies”