Wilfred Owen and Beyond, call for papers


The Oxford Centre for Life Writing, in partnership with the Western Front Association and the Wilfred Owen Association, is pleased to be hosting a conference to mark the centenary of Wilfred Owen’s death.

Owen’s life was tragically short. Any study of his life is by definition overshadowed by his death and the bitter irony of its timing, at the very end of the war. Unlike some of his lesser discussed contemporaries, such as Ivor Gurney and Isaac Rosenberg, Owen’s poetry has been appreciated and analysed by many scholars in previous decades. It remains enduringly popular, and has lost little of its capacity to move and shock its readers. It is taught across the country as part of the National Curriculum, and has become the lens through which we view what, with Owen’s help, has been dubbed the most literary war in history.

Wilfred Edward Salter Owen MC (18 March 1893 – 4 November 1918)

This conference is concerned with Owen’s afterlife. How has his work been received, and how has it changed our view of the war? What effect has his verse had on writers, composers and other intellectuals, and how has Owen himself been portrayed, appropriated and discussed posthumously?

We invite proposals for 20 minute papers on the theme of Wilfred Owen’s legacy. Please send a 250 word abstract and a mini-biography (50-100 words), to Dr Kate Kennedy at oclw@wolfson.ox.ac.uk (all other queries about the conference, including registration of interest in attending, should be sent to vivien@vivienwhelpton.co.uk).

You can find more information on the call for papers, programme, how to register, and venue details on the conference webpage.

The closing date for submissions is Friday 20 October 2017.

Javier Cañada


Faith Biography

On Tuesday 23rd May we welcome Professors Heather Walton and Peter Ackers to Wolfson College to give a lunchtime seminar on faith biography. Spiritual autobiographies, such as those famously composed by Augustine, Margery Kempe and Julian of Norwich, constitute the earliest forms of life writing. The genre has changed and developed to the modern era. Contemporary spiritual life writers must engage with pressing challenges such as the feminist critique of male-centred religious practice, emerging reconceptions of materiality and the relation between spirituality and embodiment. Heather discusses her response to these issues in constructing her own spiritual life writing.

Christianity and Communism have been two themes of British Labour History. Peter brings them together by focusing on the common experience of ‘religious’ conversion & loss of faith and often the shift from one faith to the other. He explores the faith and raw emotion that lies beneath the rational surface of orthodox Labour History, discussing: WT Miller, a moderate religious nonconformist; Arthur Horner, Communist leader of the National Union of Mineworkers; and Professor Hugh Clegg, an Industrial Relations academic and Cold War social democrat. OCLW’s Katherine Collins explores their work:

Katherine Collins: You are both what we might call ‘applied life-writers’ in the sense that the life-writing itself is not the end of the story for you: you’re seeking to go beyond it to gain theoretical and historical insights. So I wonder if you might think of life-writing as a research method, or a personal, spiritual or creative practice, or something else… What is life-writing to you?

Peter Ackers: I began doing Biographical research with my PhD, completed in 1993. I was a Sociologist interested in History and the big inspiration was Max Weber’s Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, with its individual exemplars. I hadn’t thought it through then, but I think a central reason for my Biographical & Historical ‘turn’ was a sense that ‘people matter’ and a reaction against institutional and structural accounts that downplay human agency. So to begin with there was a cold social science rationale for life writing. However, I’ve also been a Diary writer and I’ve always seen myself at the soft end of the social sciences close to English and History and interested in literary style. So I’ve come to see life writing as something more than a just social science method – though I’ve begun to include personal experience in more general articles – and as a more internal personal, intellectual and spiritual form of communication; hence our seminar.

Heather Walton: My first go at life writing was an attempt to understand what had contributed to my mother’s depression which deeply affected my childhood. I found that it was a way of engaging academically, politically and personally all at the same time and it was also something very active and empowering in a context where I could do little to change circumstances. I became more deeply engaged with life writing during a ten year period of infertility. Again it was a way of becoming creative in a very ‘barren’ place. The writing  did not resolve things but allowed me to think politically and spirituality about embodiment, generatively and loss. It was challenging but also comforting. It took me a while to realise that life writing could also engage theologically with big questions by rooting these in the particularity of my own story. Then there was no going back!

KC: Christian religious practice and Communist and left-wing movements have both been identified as male-dominated, perhaps even misogynistic in philosophy and praxis. Does the writing you work with bear out this assumption? And if so, how do you deal with it in your own writing?

PA: In my Labour History writing, I’ve reacted against a ‘committed’ Socialist approach that uses the past to build support for current political positions. Though I’m still interested in History & Policy in a broader, more critical sense. And our new edited book, Ackers and Reid, Alternatives to State-Socialism in Britain: Other Worlds of Labour in the Twentieth Century (Palgrave, December 2016) concludes by exploring the relevance of a tradition of associational life and civil society for us today. However, I’m also aware of anachronism and of not judging the past by the standards of the present. I think too that, in their time, many Christians and Socialists were pioneers of equal rights. I’m highly critical of Communism, but there’s no doubt that British Communists often championed the cause of women and ethnic minorities by the standards of their time. Some Protestant Christian groups, such as Congregationalists, Quakers and Methodists, also pioneered women’s church leadership, again by the standards of their time. Finally, we shouldn’t lose class in this discussion and the working class men (mainly) I’ve written about remain important historical subjects, warts and all. I think today’s heightened awareness of gender and ethnicity is valuable in making Historians ask new questions and avoiding the old tendency to see men as the generic working classes.

HW: I think the traditions, ideologies and worldviews that shape Western culture are all male-centred and misogynistic to some extent. Working in theology and spirituality you are never really in a position to forget this or get too comfortable – which is a good thing I suppose. The way I respond is by deliberately assuming a ‘feminine’ voice in my life writing. This can appear fragmented, childlike and partial but I think it does challenge the dominant registers simply by not being logocentric or authoritative. I also think a lot of the authority of received male centred perspectives is often dissolved by humour. So if my authorial voice is ‘flimsy’ and ‘funny’ and I am talking about God then that is already doing something a bit different that shifts the old world on its axis just a little.

KC: You both seem to operate at an intersection of spiritual and political concerns. Can you elaborate on the differences you perceive between these two contexts? For example, there might be different senses of historical time, or perhaps temporal progression, in spiritual and political life-writing?

PA: I’m not so sure the difference between spiritual and political concerns is so great, particularly when you reach the most committed end of the political spectrum, like Communism – as our seminar explores. Both reach into an individual’s core identity and it’s no accident that Crossman’s 1950 edited collection on former Communist believers is title, The God that Failed. I’m a former Euro-Communist, former member of the Labour Party, former Methodist and now current agnostic Anglican Christian. At 60 I’m disillusioned with strong, all-encompassing belief systems, and an advocate of pragmatic politics, but I’m still fascinated by the search for meaning. This has been a central theme of my own life, which draws me to Biography – to access other individual’s journeys; to memoir – to reflect on my own; and to life writing in general.

HW: Never really been able to distinguish between the political and the spiritual myself. These spheres together are what fascinate me the most and actually they both call forth the passion, wonder and disciplined commitment that make living worthwhile and writing matter. We have some great examples in literature of the uniting of these perspectives (Blake obviously but also Emily Dickenson, Alice Walker – too many to mention really). In life writing I have been particularly influenced by the work of Etty Hillesum and Elizabeth Smart who seem to write from a world infused by both glory and suffering and the amazing everyday. I tend to prefer the radical and the unorthodox in politics and faith but still find ordinary religious practice deeply meaningful. I go to Church!

Photo by Austin Ban (CC0 1.0)

Pursuer or pursued? Holmes on biography

‘If we are to have any hope of making a better world, we must understand it both scientifically and imaginatively.’

On 9 May, we’re delighted to welcome Professor Richard Holmes to Wolfson College, to give the Richard Ellman Lecture.

For Holmes, biography has always been a personal adventure of exploration and pursuit, a ‘handshake across time, cultures, beliefs, disciplines and genders.’ He is the author of Footsteps, a bestselling book of essays blending travel, memoir and biographical investigations, and the acclaimed companion collection Sidetracks, a captivating mixture of biography and memoir. In his latest book, This Long Pursuit: Reflections of a Romantic Biographer, Holmes roams widely through the arts, science, poetry, and more than 200 of his own working notebooks to offer an insider’s account of a biographer’s world: travelling, experimenting, teaching, forgetting, ballooning.

Holmes’s major works of Romantic biography include: Shelley: The Pursuit,which won the Somerset Maugham Award in 1974. Two volumes on Coleridge: Early Visions, which was awarded the 1989 Whitbread Book of the Year Prize (now the Costa Book Awards); and Darker Reflections, which won the Duff Cooper Prize and the Heinemann Award. Dr. Johnson and Mr. Savage, concerning the friendship between eighteenth-century British literary figures Samuel Johnson and Richard Savage, won the James Tait Black Prize. He is the author of bestselling book The Age of Wonder How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science, shortlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize and winner of the Royal Society Prize for Science Books and the National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction. He has written many other books including Falling Upwards, an uplifting account of the pioneering generation of balloon aeronauts, and several drama-documentaries for BBC Radio, most recently The Frankenstein Experiment (2002), and A Cloud in a Paper Bag (2007) about 18th century balloon mania.

The Self in Verse. Exploring Autobiographical Poetry


Poetry as a means of self-expression has fascinated writers throughout the ages and cultures. Early cases in point are ancient authors such as Catullus and Ovid, whose Latin poems Carmina and Tristia treat questions of lives faced with controversy and exile. In the Middle Ages, French and German troubadours such as Chrétien de Troyes and Walther von der Vogelweide sought to cultivate a courtly mode of self-fashioning in their songs. Likewise, ever since the Renaissance, eminent writers have penned some of their most important works in the form of autobiographical poems. Dante’s Vita Nuova, Petrarch’s Canzionere, Shakespeare’s Sonnets, Goethe’s Sesenheimer Lieder, Wordsworth’s Prelude are but a few, crucial milestones of the genre. Autobiographical approaches to considering the self are located at the very centre of lyrical expression: whether in love poems, religious poetry, historiographic or epic poems, to name but a few, the poet is often intertwined with the text in an approach to telling selfhood. In the 20th and 21st centuries, autobiographical poetry has also been widely practised throughout the literatures, with Modernists and Postmodernists such as Arthur Rimbaud, Gottfried Benn, and the Turkish poet Nâzım Hikmet (“Otobiyografi”, 1961) stretching the boundaries of life-writing in verse.

Yet scholarly approaches to the art of autobiographical writing are typically focused on prose narrative forms rather than on poetry. It is often overlooked that the long history of life writing has spawned a rich corpus of self-portraits in versified, rhythmic, or otherwise deliberately bound language.

This conference, a collaboration between the Friedrich Schlegel Graduate School of Literary Studies at the Freie Universität Berlin, the Faculties of English and Medieval and Modern Languages at Oxford and the Oxford Centre for Life-Writing, brings together researchers interested in autobiographical poetry or the ‘writing of the self’ in lyric forms, raising major questions about non-narrative means of self-articulation and self-portraiture and forms of life-writing specific to poetry. Aspects addressed in the keynote papers include the use of names in poetry, the articulation of gender, poetic ‘masks’, and voicing and the ‘sound of the self’. With scholars from both English and Modern Languages drawn from four countries among the participants, our conference will provide a rare opportunity to compare current theoretical positions in different national contexts and disciplines and refine our methodologies through dialogue.

9-11 April 2017, St Hilda’s College, Oxford

Convenors: Dr Martin Kindermann, Dr Johannes Görbert, Marie Lindskov Hansen (FU Berlin), Dr Georgina Paul (St Hilda’s College, Oxford)

Photo by Álvaro Serrano (CC0 1.0)

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The Celebrity Interview: History, Aesthetics, Method

Please join us on Tuesday 17th January at 5:30pm, at the Leonard Wolfson Auditorium, Wolfson College.

The second in a new series of OCLW events focusing on the intersections of life-writing and celebrity, this discussion panel is dedicated to the genre of the celebrity interview. Scholars and practitioners will cast a spotlight on one of the dominant forms in contemporary media and celebrity culture, exploring its history, aesthetics, and methodology.

In her talk on “Interviews and the Work of Celebrity”, Rebecca Roach (King’s College London) will consider the labour involved in a format often derided as being little else but celebrity gossip, even though it has become the predominant mode of (self)promotion for authors and other public figures.

Anneleen Masschelein (University of Leuven, Belgium) examines the practice of the recorded last interview by eminent intellectuals, such as Dennis Potter, Edward Said, and Stuart Hall. Her contribution looks at this media phenomenon in the light of the ‘famous last words’ tradition and against the background of a shift in practices of dying in contemporary Western culture.

The panel will be rounded off by a ‘meta interview’: a conversation between critic and biographer Hermione Lee and arts journalist and broadcaster Mark Lawson about the art and method of the celebrity interview.

The event is free and open to all.

For more information, please contact Kate Kennedy 

Photo by Oscar Keys (CC0 1.0)


Call For Papers: 15 May deadline for OCLW/ TORCH Conference, ‘After-Image: Life-Writing and Celebrity’

OCLW and TORCH are funding two conferences related to life-writing this year, please see below for details on the conference, ‘After-Image: Life-Writing and Celebrity’:

Call for Papers, 15 May abstract submission deadline

After-Image: Life-Writing and Celebrity
Saturday, 19 September 2015
The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities (TORCH) and the Oxford Centre for Life-Writing (OCLW) at Wolfson College, Oxford

With funding from the Oxford Centre for Life-Writing, the Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities, and the Centre for Life-Writing Research at King’s College London (CLWR)

 Confirmed Keynote Speakers:

Sarah Churchwell Andrew O’Hagan
Professor of American Literature and Public Understanding of the Humanities, University of East Anglia

2015 Writer in Residence, The Eccles Centre at the British Library


Creative Writing Fellow,

King’s College London 

In the last decade, the fields of life-writing and celebrity studies have separately gained traction as areas for provocative critical analysis, but the significant connections between them have been overlooked. In celebrity studies, stories about individual people are examined through national, cultural, economic and political contexts. The function of the person’s image is considered rather than the life from which that image was/is derived. Conversely, life-writing does not always take into account the impact of celebrity on the life, and instead portrays it as an event rather than a condition with psychological impact which could be an integral part of the narrative.

 Through a one-day conference entitled ‘After-Image: Life-Writing and Celebrity,’ we want to consider the interplay between celebrity and life-writing. The conference will explore ideas of image, persona and self-fashioning in an historical as well as a contemporary context and the role these concepts play in the writing of lives. How does the story (telling) of a historical life—of Cleopatra or Abraham Lincoln, for instance— alter when we re-read it in terms of celebrity? What is the human impact of being a celebrity— in the words of Richard Dyer, ‘part of the coinage of every day speech’? And how does this factor in when we use archival materials related to celebrities, such as diaries, letters, memoirs, interviews, press accounts, oral histories, apocryphal tales, etc.? Furthermore, what are the ethical responsibilities of life-writers when approaching such famous stories?

Possible topics for papers include but are not limited to:

  • Celebrity in the fields of literature, politics, entertainment and public life
  • Historical reevaluations of celebrity from earlier periods
  • Royal lives
  • The politics of writing celebrity lives
  • The psychology of celebrity
  • Fame, famousness, fandom, stardom, myth and/or iconicity
  • The celebrity as life-writer (i.e. celebrity memoirs, etc.)
  • Using celebrity lives in historical fiction
  • The celebrity and identity
  • Showmanship, freak shows and the circus
  • Identity, power and violence in lives of the famous
  • Images and the press
  • Writing celebrity lives from below

We also welcome papers on any issues arising from these questions and disciplines.

The conference organizers invite abstracts for individual 20-minute presentations/papers or panel proposals. Presenters should submit abstracts of 300 words by 15 May 2015 to Nanette O’Brien (nanette.obrien@wolfson.ox.ac.uk) and Oline Eaton (faith.eaton@kcl.ac.uk). Please send your abstract as a separate attachment in a PDF or Word document, and include on it your name, affiliation, and a brief bio.

Hilary Term 2015 Events

OCLW is starting 2015 with a term full of exciting events, including the Weinrebe Lectures in Life-Writing!

Please find all details below.

All events are open to all, free of charge, with no reservation required, with the exception of the Life-Writing lunch at the end of term when you will need to book ahead.

Hope to see many of you there!


Oxford Centre for Life-Writing: Events: Hilary Term 2015



The Weinrebe Lectures in Life-Writing: ‘Political History and Life-Writing’

Tuesday 27 January (Week 2), 5.30pm, Leonard Wolfson Auditorium, Wolfson College:

Roy Foster, Carroll Professor of Irish History at Hertford College, Oxford, will speak on ‘The Making of Saints: Politics, Biography and Hagiography in Modern Irish History.’ Professor Foster is one of Britain’s most eminent historians; he is also a world-renowned biographer and an accomplished and prolific critic, reviewer, and broadcaster. His books include Charles Stewart Parnell: The Man and His Family (1976); Lord Randolph Churchill: A Political Life (1981); Modern Ireland 1600-1972 (1988); The Irish Story:  Telling Tales and Making It Up in Ireland (2001), which won the 2003 Christian Gauss Award for Literary Criticism; W.B. Yeats, A Life. I:  The Apprentice Mage 1865-1914 (1997), which won the 1998 James Tait Black Prize for biography, and Volume II: The Arch-Poet, 1915-1939 (2003); and Words Alone: Yeats and his Inheritances, derived from his Clark Lectures at the University of Cambridge.

Tuesday 3 February (Week 3), 5.30pm, Leonard Wolfson Auditorium, Wolfson College:

Peter Hennessy, Lord Hennessy of Nympsfield and Attlee Professor of Contemporary British History at Queen Mary, University of London, will give a lecture entitled ‘The Importance of Being Personal: Political History and Life’. Lord Hennessy is the country’s foremost historian of government, a regular contributor to the press, and the award-winning author of books including Never Again: Britain 1945-51 (1992); The Hidden Wiring: Unearthing the British Constitution (1995);Distilling the Frenzy: Writing the History of One’s Own Times (2012); Cabinets and the Bomb (2007); Having It So Good: Britain in the Fifties (2006); The Secret State: Whitehall and the Cold War (2002); and Establishment and Meritocracy(2014).

Tuesday 10 February (Week 4), 5.30pm, Leonard Wolfson Auditorium, Wolfson College:

Anne Deighton is a fellow of Wolfson College, and Professor of European International Politics in the Department of Politics and International Relations, University of Oxford. Professor Deighton will speak about her latest research project, a political biography of Ernest Bevin, who was British Foreign Secretary in the 1940s and a central figure in the creation of many of the international institutions which shape our world today. Her talk is called ‘The Value-Added of Political Life-Writing: Ernest Bevin (1881-1951)’. Professor Deighton is a renowned historian who has published important works on themes ranging from the contemporary history and political integration of Europe, European security institutions, the genesis of human rights issues, and the use, and abuse, of military force in the contemporary world.

Tuesday 17 February (Week 5), 5.30pm, Leonard Wolfson Auditorium, Wolfson College:

Margaret MacMillan will give a talk entitled ‘Sometimes It Matters Who is in Power.’ Professor MacMillan is a world-renowned historian and an eminent public intellectual. Her books include Women of the Raj: The Mothers, Wives, and Daughters of the British Empire in India (2007) and Peacemakers: The Paris Conference of 1919 and Its Attempt to Make Peace (2009). The latter was published in North America as Paris 1919: Six Months that Changed the World, and won the Duff Cooper Prize, the Samuel Johnson Prize for non-fiction (the first woman to do so), the Hessell-Tiltman Prize for History, the Silver Medal for the Council on Foreign Relations Arthur Ross Book Award, and the Governor-General’s prize for non-fiction in 2003. She is also the author of Nixon in China: The Week That Changed the World (entitled Nixon and Mao in the US) (2006), which was nominated in January 2007 for a Gelber Prize, awarded annually to the best book on international affairs published in English, and The Uses and Abuses of History (2008). Her most recent book is The War that Ended Peace: How Europe abandoned peace for the First World War (2013). Professor MacMillan comments frequently in the media on historical issues and current affairs.


Other Events

24 February, 5.30-7pm, Leonard Wolfson Auditorium, Wolfson College:

‘The Suspicions of Mrs Gaskell’: Award-winning biographer and critic Claire Harman, whose biography of Victorian novelist Charlotte Brontë is forthcoming in 2015, will speak about the composition and reception of the controversial first biography of the subject, published in 1857.

Tuesday 10 March (Week 8), 1-2pm, Haldane Room,

Life-Writing Lunch Seminar: Frances Larson. Anthropologist and writer Frances Larson will speak from her biographical work on Henry Wellcome (An Infinity of Things, 2009) a book published to critical acclaim and which was shortlisted for the MJA Awards and chosen as a Sunday Times Book of The Year and as a New Scientist Best Book of 2009. This event is free of charge and open to all: places are limited, and because we provide a sandwich lunch, you must register in advance. To register online, please follow the link on www.wolfson.ox.ac.uk/clusters/life-writing/events/lwlunch



OCLW Events: Trinity Term 2014

Hello life-writers! Trinity begins next week, and OCLW has some great events on this term: two conferences, a talk by OCLW director Hermione Lee on her new biography of Penelope Fitzgerald, a colloquium on Coetzee’s Lives following his public reading, and much more.  Hope to see many of you there.  Details below.

Oxford Centre for Life-writing Events: Trinity Term 2014

All OCLW members are very welcome to attend the Wolfson Public Lecture Series in Trinity Term 2014. On 8, 15, 20 and 29 May respectively, Romesh Gunesekera, Michael Ondaatje, Kamile Shamsie, and Anita and Kiran Desai will discuss aspects of the Series’ theme: New Challenges for South Asian Writing in the Twenty-First Century.

OCLW members are also welcome to attend a special event: novelist J.M. Coetzee will give a rare public reading at Wolfson’s Leonard Wolfson Auditorium on 12 June. Please arrive early to avoid disappointment. 

OCLW Events

19 May (Week 4), 5.30-7pm, Haldane Room, Wolfson College:

Seminar: ‘Writing Family Memoir’ with Lyndall Gordon. This year’s Wolfson Public Lecture Series, themed around South Asian writing, articulates a clear interest in family memoir. This OCLW seminar, featuring the biographer Lyndall Gordon (biographer of Emily Dickinson, Mary Wollstonecraft, Henry James, T.S. Eliot and Virginia Woolf), will build on the theme of family memoir.

3 June (Week 6), 5.30-8pm, Leonard Wolfson Auditorium, Wolfson College:

Lecture: Hermione Lee on Penelope Fitzgerald: A Life. OCLW’s director, Hermione Lee, will be discussing and reading from her recent acclaimed biography of the novelist Penelope Fitzgerald. This special event will be followed by a celebratory drinks reception in the Haldane Room, Wolfson College.

13 June (Week 7), 2-6pm, Leonard Wolfson Auditorium, Wolfson College:

Workshop: ‘Coetzee’s Lives’. Featuring David Attwell, Professor of Modern Literature at the University of York, this afternoon workshop will build on themes raised by the preceding day’s reading by the acclaimed author J.M. Coetzee. No registration is required; all are welcome. Convened by Elleke Boehmer; Please direct queries to erica.lombard@hertford.ox.ac.uk 

17 June (Week 8), 1-2pm, Haldane Room, Wolfson College:

Life-Writing Lunch Seminar: Mark Thompson will be speaking on his biography of the Serbian and Yugoslavian novelist Danilo Kis, Birth Certificate: The Story of Danilo Kis, and questioning, ‘how do you write a literary biography?’ The Life-Writing Lunch is a termly seminar series, in which auto/biographers discuss their work in an informal, friendly setting over a sandwich lunch. There is no charge, but you must register well in advance, by following the link on http://www.wolfson.ox.ac.uk/clusters/life-writing/events/lwlunch

2 July (Week 10), 9-6pm, Radcliffe Humanities Building, Oxford:

Conference: Procrastination – Cultural Explorations. Winners of the OCLW-TORCH Postgraduate Conference Award, Danielle Yardy and Elizabeth Chatterjee are the convenors of a one-day conference exploring the phenomenon of procrastination, and the fraught moral and political claims it provokes. For more information, please see http://procrastinationoxford.org, follow the conference on Twitter (@ProcrastinOx), or email the convenors at ProcrastinationOx@gmail.com

Hosted Events Taking Place at OCLW

8 May (Week 2), 10-6pm, Leonard Wolfson Auditorium, Wolfson College:

Conference: ‘Genius for Sale! Artistic Production and Economic Context in the Long Nineteenth Century’. This one-day conference will bring together scholars from a number of disciplines to examine the relationship between creative output and economic forces in the long nineteenth century, a period that saw a radical transformation in the economic circumstances facing artists. It will feature scholars who have produced detailed qualitative studies of the impact of economic context on artistic production and those who have turned to quantitative methods to study cultural output. Speakers will include economists, historians, economic historians, art historians, and modern linguists who work on different kinds of cultural production (art, music and literature) in diverse geographic settings. Convenors: Jonathan Paine and Diana Greenwald. Please see www.artsandecon.com for more information, or email diana.greenwald@wadh.ox.ac.uk

OCLW events Hilary Term 2014

We have a great line up this term! OCLW is starting off the term with a special collaborative workshop on ‘Literary Letters’ from the eighteenth century to the present, followed by the Weinrebe Lecture series which occur in conjunction with our other events this term (see our post on the Weinrebe Lectures), and talks from our OCLW scholars, as well as Tom Couser, Paul Strohm, and a lunch seminar with James Hamilton (free, but registration required). Finally, take a look at the conferences we’re hosting in March and April!

Unless otherwise stated, all events are open to all, free of charge, with no reservation required.

Tuesday 28 January (Week 2), 5-7pm, Leonard Wolfson Auditorium, Wolfson College:

‘An OCLW Workshop on Literary Letters’. This event will focus on literary letters from the 18th century to the present day. Papers will explore aspects of genre, reciprocity, self-presentation, and the material culture of letters. Individual letter-writers to be considered include Samuel Johnson, Keats, Godwin, Wollstonecraft, Yeats, and Isaiah Berlin. Convened by Professor Pamela Clemit. Speakers include: John Barnard, Pamela Clemit, Grace Egan, Daniel Hitchens, Priyasha Mukhopadhyay, Mark Pottle, Henriette van der Blom, Maria Rita Drumond Viana. This event is free of charge and open to all. For information, please contact pamela.clemit@wolfson.ox.ac.uk

Wednesday 19 February (Week 5), 5.30-7pm, Haldane Room, Wolfson College:

‘Work-in-Progress Seminar’: OCLW’s Visiting Scholar, Dr Tracey Potts (Nottingham), and Visiting Doctoral Students, Jeffrey Gutierrez (Brown), Sophie Scott-Brown (ANU) and Maria Rita Drumond Viana (Sao Paolo), will discuss the research they are conducting whilst in residence at OCLW.

Tuesday 4 March (Week 7), 5.30-7pm, Leonard Wolfson Auditorium, Wolfson College:

Lecture: Tom Couser (Hofstra), ‘The Work of Memoir; or, Why Memoir Matters’. This lecture will be followed by a drinks reception in the LWA foyer, to which all are welcome.

Thursday 6 March (Week 7), 5.30-7pm, Leonard Wolfson Auditorium, Wolfson College:

Lecture: Paul Strohm (Columbia), ‘Was there Life-Writing in the Middle Ages?’

Tuesday 11 March (Week 8), 1-2pm, Haldane Room,

Life-Writing Lunch Seminar: James Hamilton, ‘Unrolling the tapestry – weaving inter-related lives in books and exhibitions’. This event is free of charge and open to all: places are limited, and because we provide a sandwich lunch, you must register in advance. To register online, please follow the link on www.wolfson.ox.ac.uk/clusters/life-writing/events/lwlunch

Hosted Events Taking Place at OCLW:

20-22 March 2014, Isaiah Berlin’s Enlightenment: a two-day interdisciplinary conference will be held at OCLW to examine Isaiah Berlin’s view of the Enlightenment and the presence of the Enlightenment in his work. For information, please contact Professor Ritchie Robertson, ritchie.robertson@mod-langs.ox.ac.uk

15-16 April 2014, The Sixteenth Oxford Dance Symposium: The Dancer in Celebrity Culture in the Long Eighteenth Century: Reputations, Images, Portraits. Building on the success of the 2009 symposium, ‘Dance and Image’, the 16th Oxford Dance Symposium, in association with the Oxford centre for Life-Writing at Wolfson College, takes as its subject dancer celebrity in all its forms. There will be a particular focus on dancers’ portraits, and also on the wider issues of patronage, practice and philosophy of dance during the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries. For more information, and to register, please visit www.wolfson.ox.ac.uk/clusters/life-writing/events/dance

The Weinrebe Lectures: Hilary Term 2014

The annual Weinrebe Lectures in Life-Writing will take place over four weeks in the Leonard Wolfson Auditorium at Wolfson College beginning on Tuesday, 4 February 2014.

The lectures are open to all, free of charge, with no reservation required.

The Weinrebe Lectures in Life-Writing: ‘Voicing the Self’

Tuesday 4 February (Week 3), 5.30pm, Leonard Wolfson Auditorium, Wolfson College:

Blake Morrison, ‘“The Worst Thing I Ever Did”: Confession and the Contemporary Memoir’

Thursday 13 February (Week 4), 5.30pm, Leonard Wolfson Auditorium, Wolfson College:

Edward St Aubyn in conversation with Hermione Lee
Please note that this lecture will take place on a Thursday, not a Tuesday.

Tuesday 18 February (Week 5), 5.30pm, Leonard Wolfson Auditorium, Wolfson College:

Richard Holmes, ‘The Biographer’s Other I’

Tuesday 25 February (Week 6), 5.30pm, Leonard Wolfson Auditorium, Wolfson College:

Marina Warner, ‘Hearing Voices, Travelling Back’

Events for Michaelmas term!

Oxford Centre for Life-Writing (OCLW):

Calendar of Events in Michaelmas Term 2013

Please see OCLW’s website (http://www.wolfson.ox.ac.uk/clusters/life-writing) for more information about the Centre and our forthcoming events. All events take place at the Oxford Centre for Life-Writing, Wolfson College, Oxford. Most events are free of charge and open to all. Some events require advance booking.

4 October 2013: ‘Navigating Networks: Women, Travel, and Female Communities’: a one-day conference at Wolfson College, convened by Hannah Sikstrom of the Travel Cultures Seminar. Booking required. Please contact travelculturesseminar@gmail.com or see http://travelcultures.weebly.com

22 Oct 2013, 5.30-7pm: Kathryn Hughes, ‘George Eliot’s Milk Churn’. Leonard Wolfson Auditorium, Wolfson College, Oxford. Free; open to all; no booking required.

24 Oct 2013, 5.30-7pm: Hermione Lee and Ray Monk (Southampton; author of Robert Oppenheimer: Inside the Centre) in conversation. Leonard Wolfson Auditorium, Wolfson College, Oxford. Free; open to all; no booking required.

29 Oct 2013, 5-7pm: ‘From Life-Writing to Death Notices: Obituary, Portraiture and Commemoration’. Seminar convened by Professor David Zeitlyn (Oxford), featuring Neil George (Producer of BBC Radio 4’s Last Word), Martin Rowson (cartoonist and writer), Laurence Goldman (editor of DNB), Shearer West (Professor of History of Art, Oxford), Harry de Quetteville (obituary editor, Daily Telegraph). Haldane Room, Wolfson College, Oxford. Free; open to all; no booking required. For more information, please contact david.zeitlyn@anthro.ox.ac.uk .

13 Nov 2013, 5.30-7pm: ‘War Veterans: Memory and Storytelling’. Seminar convened by Kate McLoughlin (Birkbeck) and Celeste-Marie Bernier (Nottingham). Leonard Wolfson Auditorium, Wolfson College, Oxford. Free; open to all; no booking required. For more information, please contact kate.mcloughlin@bbk.ac.uk.

19 Nov 2013, 5.30-7pm: lecture by David Amigoni (Keele): ‘Writing lives, inscribing familial distinction: inheritance, science and culture in life writings by the Darwins, the Huxleys, and the Batesons’. Leonard Wolfson Auditorium, Wolfson College, Oxford. Free; open to all; no booking required.

29 November 2013: ‘Intimate Archives: Photography and Life-Writing’: a one-day conference at Wolfson College, convened by Lee-Von Kim (Oxford) and Christine Fouirnaies (Oxford). Booking required. For more information, please contact intimatearchives@gmail.com

3 Dec 2013, 1-2pm: life-writing lunch with Marcus Ferrar. OCLW’s termly life-writing lunchtime seminar:  Haldane Room, Wolfson College. This event is free and open to all (and a sandwich lunch is provided), but you must book in advance, online, via our online booking site at the Oxford University Stores

Alex Danchev, talking about his life of Cézanne – Monday 20 May, 5.30-7pm

On Monday 20 May, 5.30-7pm (Haldane Room, Wolfson College, Oxford), Alex Danchev (University of Nottingham) will talk at the Oxford Centre for Life-Writing about his new book, Cézanne: A Life.

Today we view Cézanne as a monumental figure, but during his lifetime (1839-1906), many did not understand him or his work. With brilliant insight, drawing on a vast range of primary sources, Alex Danchev tells the story of an artist who was never accepted into the official Salon: he was considered a revolutionary at best and a barbarian at worst, whose paintings were unfinished, distorted and strange. His work sold to no one outside his immediate circle until his late thirties, and he maintained that ‘to paint from nature is not to copy an object; it is to represent its sensations’ – a belief way ahead of his time, with stunning implications that became the obsession of many other artists and writers, from Matisse and Braque to Rilke and Gertrude Stein. Beginning with the restless teenager from Aix who was best friends with Emile Zola at school, Danchev carries us through the trials of a painter tormented by self-doubt, who always remained an outsider, both of society and the bustle of the art world. Cézanne: A Life delivers not only the fascinating days and years of the visionary who would ‘astonish Paris with an apple’, with interludes analysing his self-portraits – but also a complete assessment of Cézanne’s ongoing influence through artistic imaginations in our own time. He is, as this life shows, a cultural icon comparable to Marx or Freud.

This talk is open to all and free of charge; no reservation required. We’d love to see you there!

You can read a review of Alex Danchev’s Cézanne: A Life by clicking here

OCLW’s Conference – ‘The Lives of Objects – registration now open

From 20-22 September 2013, the Oxford Centre for Life-Writing will hold its inaugural conference on ‘The Lives of Objects’. We are delighted to announce that online registration for this conference is now open (you can do a ‘paper registration’, by downloading, printing and completing a registration form, and sending it, with a cheque (made payable to ‘Wolfson College, Oxford’). The registration form will be uploaded this weekend).

You can find information about registration, a draft programme, the intellectual rationale for the conference and information about Wolfson and the surrounding area on the official OCLW conference webpage. Unfortunately the call for papers is closed, and we cannot consider any further abstracts for presentation.

Please note that delegates will be asked to choose ONE out of THREE options for a trip to one of Oxford’s museums; there are very limited spaces for one of these options (tour of the Museum of History of Science, Oxford), so please register asap if you wish to go on this trip.

If you have any queries about the conference, and registration, please email me. I hope you’re as excited about the conference and the proposed programme as we are!

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 kate.allen@britteninoxford.co.uk 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 events@wolfson.ox.ac.uk / 01865 274 083 (£60 per night)
Booking form from http://www.britteninoxford.co.uk.   Further information from kate.allen@britteninoxford.co.uk / 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.

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