New creative life-writing collaboration launched by CLHLWR and REFRAME Sussex

Life Writing Projects is is a new collaboration between The Centre for Life History and Life Writing Research (CLHLWR) and REFRAME.

“Our contributors, who include new and established writers, artists and poets, embrace the concept of life-writing as a project. They work here within a set of self-imposed constraints, in order, as Michael Sheringham puts it, ‘to allow something unforeseen to happen’.”

The project includes Oxford Centre for Life-Writing visiting scholar Katherine Collins’s piece, Back to the Beach, first presented at a TORCH Environmental Humanities seminar.

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From ‘Back to the Beach’, by Katherine Collins

In Wardrobe Diaries Louise Kenward grieves for her grandmother by working with her dresses and old wardrobe; Tanya Shadrick connects her grandmother’s loving and playful care for her as a child with her own newly discovered capacity to be creative. Jenni Cresswell’s Three Green Dresses threads together past, present and future.

Tom Ottway works through his own and his mother’s grief for his father in Negative Spaces: Postcards Home, and Nirmal Puwar laments not only the loss of close relatives but austerity’s legacy of neglect and deterioration in inner city Coventry where she grew up and lives again now.

In The Uses of Photography, Annie Ernaux and Marc Marie make a literary project out of their erotic relationship and Annie’s treatment for breast cancer, defying death and grief.

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Similarly, in the poetry, prose and photographs of Breastless: Encounters with risk-reducing surgery Clare Best tracks her journey through grief and loss to a new physical shape and powerfully creative identity.

In The ‘Campus’ Blouse, Lyn Thomas describes the uncertainties and disorientation of arriving in Oxford from a working-class background, and the pleasure of at least looking the part.

In the Books section of the site, pieces explore the role of encounters with books and reading in life history narratives, including an audio recording of bookshop browsers’ memories of favourite books made at independent bookshop Much Ado Books in Alfriston, Sussex.

In Desperately Seeking Susan, Lyn Thomas reflects on her childhood reading of Jane Shaw’s Susan books, and her return to them in later life.

Life Writing Projects was devised and is edited by Professor Lyn Thomas and was designed by Dr Tanya Kant.

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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.

 

 

 

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.