Britten’s Life and Influences: Kind Ghosts

As part of the Britten in Oxford celebrations, Paul Kildea, Nicholas Cleobury and OCLW are hosting a Britten Study Weekend, entitled ‘Kind Ghosts: Britten’s Life and Influences’. Friday 5 July 2013, 6pm – Sunday 7 July, 2pm.
Please click here and here for more information.
Arguably one of Britain’s most important composers of the 20th century, Britten created a unique body of work that will be remembered and performed down the ages.  His desire was to make music accessible to as wide an audience as possible;  Britten in Oxford are fulfilling this wish with an exciting programme of concerts and events in celebration of the composer’s centenary. 
A highlight of the celebrations will be the Britten study weekend KIND GHOSTS: BRITTEN’S LIFE AND INFLUENCES at Wolfson College, 5-7 July.  Devised and presented by Paul Kildea and Nicholas Cleobury, the weekend will feature an impressive range of speakers including musicians, writers and academics who will offer close examination of Britten’s life, works and the poets who influenced him.  
Speakers include:
Professor Anne Deighton – Britten and the politics of war
John Fuller – Britten and the 1930s
Professor Hermione Lee – Serenade for Tenor Horn and Strings: the uses of language
Professor Frances Spalding – Britten and the Pipers
Professor Jon Stallworthy – Britten and Wilfred Owen
Sir John Tooley – Britten at the Royal Opera
Michael Berkeley CBE
Full details for the weekend can be found below and in the attachment.  Please contact for further information or to register your interest.
Friday 5th July:  (start 6pm) Evening reception and opening presentation
Saturday 6th July:  Full day of presentations and discussion followed by a Gala Dinner with guest speaker Michael Berkeley CBE
Sunday 7th July:  Morning workshops, debates and farewell lunch (end 2pm)
Conference pass: £195 (includes all sessions and meals). Accommodation available via / 01865 274 083 (£60 per night)
Booking form from   Further information from / 07930 554 746

OCLW’s Trinity Term events calendar

We’ve got a lot going on, this summer term: two writing workshops, two evening seminars (one on how the state writes our lives; one on the importance of life-writing to Alzheimer’s research), one guest lecture (on Cézanne), and one life-writing lunchtime seminar. Phew! For those of you who sadly can’t attend the events in person, many will be recorded and podcasted, and uploaded to the Podcasts section of this blog, so keep an eye out. There will also be reports/reviews from each event uploaded to the Events Archive section of the blog, shortly after the event. If you follow us on Twitter (@OxLifeWriting), you’ll receive updates notifying you of the publication of new podcasts. But we’ll hopefully see you in person at one of our events in the near future!

  • Friday 3 May, 9.30am-5.30pm (Haldane Room): Workshop: ‘Narrating a Life: Memoir and Autobiography’. £80/£55.  This full-day immersion in the practice of memoir and autobiography will take place in the beautiful surroundings of Wolfson College, Oxford, and will be led by some of the leading practitioners in modern life-writing, including the poet, autobiographer and critic Carmen Bugan, OCLW’s director Hermione Lee, and OCLW’s research fellow Rachel Hewitt. Participants will benefit from talks and lectures by prestigious guest speakers, practical workshops and group activities, discussing their work with leading life-writers, and the opportunity to meet and befriend contemporaries who are working on the act of narrating their own lives, all in convivial surroundings. Please click here for more information, and for details of how to register. 
  • Tuesday 7 May, 5.30-7pm (Haldane Room): OCLW will host a seminar on ‘Cognitive Archaeology: Life-Writing and Alzheimer’s’, with Dr Peter Garrard and Dr Samrah Ahmed. The earliest stages of cognitive decline dementia are difficult to pinpoint, yet early detection is of significant importance to understanding Alzheimer’s disease and initiating suitable treatment. A number of authors have used retrospective analysis to describe preclinical linguistic decline in written texts and spoken language samples. This talk will review the methods available for classifying and comparing such samples, and present some analyses of historical texts derived from verbatim records of preclinical spoken activity, for example in the writings of celebrated English novelist and philosopher Iris Murdoch (1922e1999), who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 1997.
  • Monday 20 May, 5.30-7pm (Haldane Room): Alex Danchev will talk about his new book, Cézanne: A Life.
  • Tuesday 28 May, 7.30-9.30pm (Haldane Room): Workshop: ‘Publishing the Story’.Designed to assist biographers, this evening workshop offers practical advice regarding the final stage of biographical writing: publishing the story. This will be led by a number of publishing professionals, including an agent, an editor and an author with a range of first-hand publishing experience. The workshop is free of charge, but in order to attend, you MUST book a place in advance, by emailing Rachel Hewitt.
  • Tuesday 11 June, 1-2pm (Haldane Room): Life-Writing Lunch: Alison Light. The Life-Writing Lunch is a termly lunchtime seminar series, in which practising auto/biographers discuss their work-in-progress in an informal, friendly setting. Over a buffet sandwich lunch, speakers talk for around twenty-five minutes about methodological or research issues they are currently facing in their work. This is followed by enthusiastic discussion with and between audience members, generating ideas that may prove helpful to all concerned. The lunches take place each term in the Haldane Room, Wolfson College, on the Tuesday of the final week of each term, between 1pm and 2pm. A buffet sandwich lunch is provided, and all are welcome. There is no charge, but please RSVP with any dietary requirements to Rachel Hewitt by Thursday 6 June, if you wish to attend.

New life-writing publication: Mark Thompson, Birth Certificate: The Story of Danilo Kis

Danilo Kis (1935–89) was a Yugoslav novelist, essayist, poet, and translator whose work generated storms of controversy in his homeland but today holds classic status. Kis was championed by prominent literary figures around the world, including Joseph Brodsky, Susan Sontag, Milan Kundera, Philip Roth, Nadine Gordimer, and Salman Rushdie. As more of his works become available in translation, they are prized by an international readership drawn to Kis’s innovative brilliance as a storyteller and to his profound meditation on history, culture, and the human condition at the end of the twentieth century.

A subtle analysis of a rich and varied body of writing, Birth Certificate is also a careful and sensitive telling of a life that experienced some of the last century’s greatest cruelties. Kis’s father was a Hungarian Jew, his mother a Montenegrin of Orthodox faith. The father disappeared into the Holocaust and the son—cosmopolitan, anticommunist, and passionately opposed to the myth-drenched nationalisms of his native lands—grew up chafing against the hypocrisies of Titoism. His writing broke with the epic mode, pioneered modernist techniques in his language, fulminated against literary kitsch, and sketched out a literary heritage “with no Sun as its Center and Tyrant.” Joyce and Borges were influences on his writing, which nevertheless is stunningly original. The best known of his works are Garden, AshesThe Encyclopedia of the DeadHourglassThe Anatomy Lesson; and A Tomb for Boris Davidovich.

Over the course of nearly two decades, Mark Thompson studied Kis’s papers and interviewed his family members, friends, and admirers. His intimate understanding of the writer’s life and his sure grasp of the region’s history inform his revelatory readings of Kis’s individual works. More than an appreciation of an important literary and cultural figure, this book is also a compelling guide to the destructive policies which would, shortly after Kis’s death, generate the worst violence in Europe since World War II. Thompson’s book pays tribute to Kis’s experimentalism by being itself experimental in form. It is patterned as a series of commentaries on a short autobiographical text that Kis called “Birth Certificate.” This unusual structure adds to the interest and intrigue of the book, and is appropriate for treating so autobiographical a writer who believed that literary meaning is always deeply shaped by other texts.

Mark Thompson’s Birth Certificate: the Story of Danilo Kis is published by Cornell University Press. 

New publication: Community and Communication. Oratory and Politics in Republican Rome

Community and Communication: Oratory and Politics in Republican Rome  brings together nineteen international contributions which rethink the role of public speech in the Roman Republic. Speech was an integral part of decision-making in Republican Rome, and oratory was part of the education of every member of the elite. Yet no complete speech from the period by anyone other than Cicero survives, and as a result the debate on oratory, and political practice more widely, is liable to be distorted by the distinctive features of Cicero’s oratorical practice.  Several contributions in the volume look at careers and lives of individual Roman orators (chs. 16-19).

With careful attention to a wide range of ancient evidence, this volume shines a light on orators other than Cicero, and considers the oratory of diplomatic exchanges and impromptu heckling and repartee alongside the more familiar genres of forensic and political speech. In doing so, it challenges the idea that Cicero was a normative figure, and highlights the variety of career choices and speech strategies open to Roman politicians. The essays in the volume also demonstrate how unpredictable the outcomes of oratory were: politicians could try to control events by cherry-picking their audience and using tried methods of persuasion, but incompetence, bad luck, or hostile listeners were constant threats.

is edited by Henriette van der Blom, a member of the Oxford Centre for Life-Writing. Henriette is Research Fellow at Wolfson College, Oxford University and has previously published Cicero’s Role Models (Oxford University Press, 2010) as well as articles on Cicero and Roman political life.




‘Navigating Networks: Women, Travel and Female Communities’

‘Navigating Networks: Women, Travel, and Female Communities’
An Interdisciplinary Conference Hosted by the Travel Cultures Seminar Series
 University of Oxford
~4 October 2013~
In the field of travel studies, the past two decades have witnessed an ever-growing interest in women’s travel writing. One aim of scholars has been to counter stereotypical assumptions about travel and travel writing being a principally masculine enterprise, emphasising instead that the perception of the gendering of travel is to a large extent a misconception, an ideological construct that assumes the notion of gendered separate spheres. This day-­long conference seeks to move beyond the already established fact that women travelled far more than the patriarchal ideology of separate spheres would suggest. It aims to delve further into the rich topic of women’s travel and travel writing practices by examining the ways in which women navigated female networks and created communities with one another, both through their travels and travel writing. In doing so, it will draw upon the notion of travel as a means of building networks and fostering connections with others. Through an examination of various female travel networks, this conference seeks to explore further the significance of women’s travel throughout the ages, including the opportunities for communication it fostered and the unique privileges that it cultivated.
We invite papers that address the topic of women’s travel networks in any historical period. We welcome discussion on any of the following: nonfictional or literary accounts; diaries; letters; articles; films; documentaries; photographs; and paintings.
Topics may include, but are not limited to:
The Act of Travel
• women travelling in groups, independently of men (‘unprotected’ female travellers, spinsters abroad)
• access to exclusively female spaces abroad (harems, baths, spas, circles of gossip)

• development of alliances between the female traveller and the female local

• issues of ‘othering’ – do women have an imperial agenda or do they sympathise with foreign women?

• bonds of sisterhood, friendship, and partnerships

• communities of female expats; salons and social scenes abroad

• feminine self-­fashioning: creation of female travel identities abroad

• negative associations with female travel networks: women’s aversion to being lumped together with other female travellers; their desire to break free from collective identities and stereotypes
Recording Travels
• female literary communities developed through the practice of travel and writing
• female travel writers’ engagement with one another’s texts
• female reception to travel texts

• modern travel blogs

• travelogues, advice books, or periodical pieces aimed at female readers/ travellers
• similar stylistic characteristics of women’s travel writing
• shared attitudes, interests, and goals in women’s travel writing
Please send abstracts of no more than 250 words (for papers of 20 minutes) to Hannah Sikstrom and Kimberly Marsh at <> by 1 April 2013.
Travel Cultures is an interdisciplinary seminar series at the University of Oxford for anyone with an interest in inter-­cultural communication, exploration, and travel writing.

New life-writing publication: Sarah LeFanu’s Dreaming of Rose: A Biographer’s Journal

Dreaming of Rose: A Biographer’s Journal is a fascinating account of a biographical quest and of a personal journey. While working on her biography of the writer and traveller Rose Macaulay, Sarah LeFanu kept a journal that charts the details of that quest: the people she met, the places she visited, and her strange dreamworld encounters with the very subject of her biographical pursuit.

‘This is such a wise and charming book, giving us a glimpse over the shoulder of a biographer at work. It captures what it’s really like to write a biography, which is nothing like the soothing sensation of reading one. Here are the highs and lows, the episodes of frustration and exhilaration, the serendipity, the slog, the networking, “the biographer’s art of bullying” – and the constant shifts in emotional weather between biographer and biographee. People imagine that biographers “identify” with their subjects in some simple sense, but Dreaming of Rose: A Biographer’s Journal conveys how much more complicated the
relationship is. The book becomes a tribute to biography itself, as a quest, as an art, and as the most generous and selfless of literary genres.’
Sarah Bakewell, author of How to Live: Or A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer

About the Author
Sarah LeFanu is the author of Rose Macaulay: A Biography. Her other books include S is for Samora: A Lexical Biography of Samora Machel and the Mozambican Dream and In the Chinks of the World Machine: Feminism and
Science Fiction. She is also a noted anthologist and short story writer. Sarah is a part-time tutor in the English Department at the University of Bristol, and teaches on the BA in English Literature and Community Engagement.
Dreaming of Rose is the companion to Sarah LeFanu’s biography of Dame Rose Macaulay.

Publishing Information for Sarah LeFanu’s Dreaming of Rose


New life-writing publication: Susan Soyinka’s A Silence that Speaks

A new Holocaust biography, A Silence That Speaks, A Family Story Through and Beyond the Holocaust, by Susan Soyinka, has just been published. Eighteen years in the making, it is a story spanning 200 years, which travels across many countries including, among others, Austria, the Czech Republic, Poland, San Marino, France, Sweden, England, Australia, USA, Ghana and Nigeria. It is, in effect, a history of Europe, and beyond, told through the experiences of eight generations of one family. Richly illustrated with archive photographs and rare historical documents, this is an extraordinary story of one family’s struggle to deal with the impact and the legacy of the Holocaust. It also offers a unique insight into the inner workings of the Nazi regime in Austria.
You can find out more about Susan’s book by visiting her blog, where you can also read the extraordinary epilogue to her story: The Dream Room.

The book is published by Eliora Books (ISBN: 978-0957561403and is available on amazon, in both print and Kindle, as well as other online stores world-wide.

Workshop: ‘The Habits of Highly Effective Writers’

This workshop is organised by the Oxford Learning Institute (ie. not the Oxford Centre for Life-Writing), is presented by Professor Helen Sword (University of Auckland, New Zealand), and is designed to help you become a more successful and productive academic writer. Please sign up for one of the limited number of places available at
It will take place on Thursday 16 May 2013, 14.00-17.00 at Pembroke College and is organised by the Oxford Learning Institute.
The Habits of Highly Effective Writers
“Publish or perish” is the mantra in academia. Yet few academics have been explicitly trained as writers, and fewer still have been taught the art of maintaining research productivity without sacrificing their sanity and work-life balance. Helen Sword, author of Stylish Academic Writing, has interviewed more than 80 successful academics from across the disciplines to find out about their professional formation as writers, their daily work habits, and their habits of mind. In this interactive workshop she will present a variety of evidence-based strategies for colleagues who aspire to write more confidently, stylishly, engagingly, daringly, or simply more prolifically.
Helen Sword is a scholar, poet, and award-winning teacher who has published widely on modernist literature, higher education pedagogy, digital poetics, and academic writing. Her books includeEngendering Inspiration (1995), Ghostwriting Modernism (2002), The Writer’s Diet (2007), Pacific Rim Modernisms (co-edited 2009), and Stylish Academic Writing (Harvard University Press 2012). She works in the Centre for Academic Development at the University of Auckland, where she received a 2007 Teaching Excellence Award for Innovation in Teaching. See her website ( for links to her books, her digital poetry and the Writer’s Diet, a free diagnostic tool for writers.
For further details, please contact Kathryn Black at the Oxford Learning Institute (; telephone: 01865 (2)86825)

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