Life Writing

Published by: Wilfrid Laurier University Press

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Life Writing

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Broad Is the Way

Stories from Mayerthorpe

In 1949, Margaret Norquay moved with her new husband, a minister with the United Church of Canada, to Mayerthorpe, in northern Alberta, a village in the centre of what was in those days a pioneer hinterland. Broad Is the Way is a collection of stories from their seven years there. Told with affection and gentle humour, the stories cover the challenges, heartaches, and delights of a young community and a minister and his wife in a very new marriage. Topics include the experience of orphan children sent to work on Western farms, manoeuvring for a restroom downtown for farmers’ wives in need of a place to change their babies while their husbands did business, dealing with the RCMP over liquor found in the church basement, and the generosity of spirit shown by the community to the Norquays. Throughout the book, Margaret Norquay’s indomitable spirit and determination are evident and illustrate her passionate belief in making positive change and having fun while doing it.

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Burdens of Proof

Faith, Doubt, and Identity in Autobiography

Autobiographical impostures, once they come to light, appear to us as outrageous, scandalous. They confuse lived and textual identity (the person in the world and the character in the text) and call into question what we believe, what we doubt, and how we receive information. In the process, they tell us a lot about cultural norms and anxieties. Burdens of Proof: Faith, Doubt, and Identity in Autobiography examines a broad range of impostures in the United States, Canada, and Europe, and asks about each one: Why this particular imposture? Why here and now?

Susanna Egan’s historical survey of texts from early Christendom to the nineteenth century provides an understanding of the author in relation to the text and shows how plagiarism and other false claims have not always been regarded as the frauds we consider them today. She then explores the role of the media in the creation of much contemporary imposture, examining in particular the cases of Jumana Hanna, Norma Khouri, and James Frey. The book also addresses ethnic imposture, deliberate fictions, plagiarism, and ghostwriting, all of which raise moral, legal, historical, and cultural issues. Egan concludes the volume with an examination of how historiography and law failed to support the identities of European Jews during World War II, creating sufficient instability in Jewish identity and doubt about Jewish wartime experience that the impostor could step in. This textual erasure of the Jews of Europe and the refashioning of their experiences in fraudulent texts are examples of imposture as an outcrop of extreme identity crisis.

The first to examine these issues in North America and Europe, Burdens of Proof will be of interest to scholars of life writing and cultural studies. </p

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Canadian Graphic

Picturing Life Narratives

Candida Rifkind

Canadian Graphic: Picturing Life Narratives presents critical essays on contemporary Canadian cartoonists working in graphic life narrative, from confession to memoir to biography. The contributors draw on literary theory, visual studies, and cultural history to show how Canadian cartoonists have become so prominent in the international market for comic books based on real-life experiences. The essays explore the visual styles and storytelling techniques of Canadian cartoonists, as well as their shared concern with the spectacular vulnerability of the self. Canadian Graphic also considers the role of graphic life narratives in reimagining the national past, including Indigenous–settler relations, both world wars, and Quebec’s Quiet Revolution.

Contributors use a range of approaches to analyze the political, aesthetic, and narrative tensions in these works between self and other, memory and history, individual and collective. An original contribution to the study of auto/biography, alternative comics, and Canadian print culture, Canadian Graphic proposes new ways of reading the intersection of comics and auto/ biography both within and across national boundaries.

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Chasing the Comet

A Scottish-Canadian Life

“Dour Scot” is the wrong description for David Caldow, who leads readers on a romp from the early twentieth century to the present, from an insular Scottish village to modern-day, multicultural British Columbia, from boyhood to old age. Throughout the tour he shares decades of laughter, tears, fears, and growth.

In 1910, the certain path of David’s life in Scotland is disrupted by the visit of an awe-inspiring comet. This brilliant visitor inspires the boy to dream of circling the world, like the comet, even though his life’s goal is to become a farm manager, like his father. As a young man seeking to fulfill his dreams, he travels to Canada and works his way from Quebec to British Columbia, guided by the lessons of his father and his memories of Scotland.

During his travels he grows in his understanding of himself, of the nature of love, of the ways of the world and its peoples, and of the poetry of Robert Burns. As a worker for the Farmer’s Institute and as farm manager for Colony Farm and Tranquille, two extensive BC government-owned farms, David contributes to raising the standards of Canadian agriculture. At seventy years old, he broadens the scope of his world even further, accepting a two-year Canadian federal-government position teaching farming in Tanzania.

Chasing the Comet is a true story that reads like fiction. David’s candour and his Scottish humour help him survive and thrive. In the book’s epilogue, David ponders the meaning of all his years of living, addressing questions such as: What is love? What is success? And how does one achieve them?

David Caldow lived an active life in Surrey, British Columbia until his death at the age of ninety-six.

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China Diary

The Life of Mary Austin Endicott

Mary Austin was a mayor’s daughter who expected to live an uneventful life in Canada. But when she said “I do” to Jim Endicott she found that she had “married China.”

Thrust into extraordinary circumstances, but undeterred by the political turmoil around her in China, Mary Austin Endicott determined she would achieve the goals she set for herself. She bore and raised four children, ran a one-room school and became the foster mother to three Chinese boys, despite the raised eyebrows of many of her fellow missionaries.

The family moved back to Canada, but it wasn’t long before Jim, who was becoming a well-known peace activist, returned to wartorn China. Mary, by then a school trustee, continued her fight for teachers’ rights and focussed her energy on increased activity in left-wing politics, all the while separated from Jim and grieving for a marriage she felt to be in jeopardy.

Mary and Jim were finally reunited in 1947 in the police state Shanghai had become. She used all her energy and faith in that time to help Jim regain his equilibrium. For thousands of readers her book Five Stars over China countered the common practice during the Cold War of vilifying the Chinese Revolution. Then her greatest crisis came: Jim was accused of treason.

Shirley Jane Endicott has presented us with a fascinating account of her mother’s life, based on Mary Austin Endicott’s private writings and flavoured with Shirley’s memories. She brings to life the story of an exceptional woman whose life was shaped by profound political and historical circumstances.

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The Curtain

Witness and Memory in Wartime Holland

Henry Schogt met his wife, Corrie, in 1954 in Amsterdam. Each knew the other had grown up in the Netherlands during World War II, but for years they barely spoke of their experiences. This was true for many people — the memories were just too painful. Years later, Henry and Corrie began to piece their memories together, to untangle reality from dreams. Their intent was to help others understand what had happened then, and how it influenced and affected not only their lives but those of all who survived.

The seven stories in The Curtain reveal how two families — one Jewish, one non-Jewish — fared in the Netherlands during the German occupation in World War II. Each vignette highlights a specific aspect of life; all show how life changed for everyone, and forever.

Four stories are based on the author’s memories of his own non-Jewish family: Henry’s friendship with a Jewish teenager; the conflict of personal antipathy with the realization that help must be provided; the Schogt parents’ determination to do the right thing; the difficulties of coping with an aunt with Nazi sympathies. These are stories about the randomness of survival and the elusive nature of memory.

For the Jewish family, three stories drawn from the memories of the author’s wife and family demonstrate the bewildering situation of trying to make impossible life-determining decisions when faced with confusing and deceitful decrees. The family must struggle with the luck — or absence thereof — of finding refuge when forced from their homes, and with the perplexing inconsistencies of the collaboration of Dutch authorities and police with the Nazis.

The Curtain emphasizes the difference between the options that were open to non-Jews and Jews in the Netherlands. Non-Jews could freely choose whether to actively resist the Germans, collaborate with the Nazis, or just to do nothing, and try to live a normal life in spite of wartime restrictions.

Dutch Jews, on the other hand, did not have a choice — whatever they did, whatever decisions they made, they were doomed, and it often seemed, when someone survived, just simple luck. A short introduction about the war years and an appendix with a chronology of decrees, events, and statistics, provide background information for this haunting memoir of those disturbing years during the German Occupation in the Netherlands.

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Dead Woman Pickney

A Memoir of Childhood in Jamaica

Dead Woman Pickney chronicles life stories of growing up in Jamaica from 1943 to 1965 and contains both personal experience and history, told with stridency and humour. The author’s coming of age parallels the political stages of Jamaica’s moving from the richest Crown colony of Great Britain to an independent nation within the British Commonwealth of Nations.

Taking up the haunting memories of childhood, along with her astonishment at persistent racial marginalization, both locally and globally, the author sets out to construct a narrative that at once explains her own origins in the former slave society of Jamaica and traces the outsider status of Africa and its peoples. The author’s quest to understand the absence of her mother and her mother’s people from her life is at the heart of this narrative. The title, Dead Woman Pickney, is in Jamaican patois, and its meaning unfolds throughout the narrative. It begins with the author’s childhood question of what a mother is, followed by the realization of the vulnerability of a child without its mother’s protection. The term “pickney” was the name for slave children on sugar plantations, and post-emancipation the term was retained for the descendants of enslaved Africans and the children of black women fathered by slavers. The author struggles through her life to discover the identity of her mother in the face of silence from her father’s brutal family.

A wonderful resource for teachers of history, social studies, cultural studies, and literature, this work could be used as a starting point to discuss issues of diasporic identities, colonialism, racism, impact of slavery, and Western imperialism around the world. It is also an engaging read for those interested in memoir and life writing.

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Dear Editor and Friends

Letters from Rural Women of the North-West, 1900-1920

How did women in the early twentieth century, newly arrived in North-West Canada, cope with their strange new lives — so very different from the lives they used to lead? How did they see themselves and their role in frontier life?

In the early twentieth century, drawn west by the promise of free land, economic success or religious and political freedom, women moved from eastern Canada and overseas to farms and ranches in North-West Canada. They discovered that it was not the utopia touted by government propaganda or land agents. They also discovered that there was a select but diverse group of rural women who shared their common experiences of isolation, of hard work and duty, of poverty and neglect. But, more importantly, they shared knowledge of independence and self-reliance and of pride in what they had accomplished.

Through letters written to the women’s pages in agricultural newspapers, they forged a vital network that supported, encouraged and educated women in ways to improve their rural lives. Their letters show how these rural women made significant and vital contributions to the settlement and development of the Canadian North-West.

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Haven’t Any News

Ruby’s Letters from the Fifties

“Ruby wrote letters home almost every week....She wrote anything that came into her head: about her children and Fred, her housekeeping, food, clothes, her friends, activities, schemes for making money, her dreams for the future....Her letters, naïve, intimate and lively, were always optimistic or poignant. We’d read them to each other on the phone or pass them around. Often we saved them.”

So writes Edna Staebler in her introduction to this edited collection of her sister Ruby’s letters from the fifties. In 1957 when Edna first began to collect and edit these letters she did so simply because she was sure that others would enjoy reading them as much as her own family did. Over fifty years later, the letters remain a joy to read and reclaim the ordinary voice of a housewife. Remarkably, these letters echo themes academics want to isolate in order to analyze women’s roles in the modern world — drifting (“life just happened to me”) and contingency (“women’s lives depend on relationships”), for example, as well as the balance between family and work. As a fine example of women’s life writing they also illustrate the literary patterns of overt and covert stories and of textual and subtextual meaning.

Haven’t Any News: Ruby’s Letters from the Fifties includes an Afterword by Marlene Kadar, Associate Professor of Humanities at York University and a leading expert on women’s life writing. All those concerned with women’s studies and with the social history of twentieth-century Canada will find this book of enormous interest and it will delight Edna Staebler fans everywhere.

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I Have a Story to Tell You

I Have a Story to Tell You is about Eastern European Jewish immigrants living in Montreal, Toronto, and Winnipeg in the early twentieth century. The stories encompass their travels and travails on leaving home and their struggles in the sweatshops and factories of the garment industry in Canada. Basing her work on extensive interviews, Seemah Berson recreates these immigrants’ stories about their lives in the Old Country and the hardship of finding work in Canada, and she tells how many of these newcomers ended up in the needle trades. Revealing a fervent sense of socialist ideology acquired in the crucible of the Russian Revolution, the stories tell of the influence of Jewish culture and traditions, of personal–and organized–fights against exploitation, and of struggles to establish unions for better working conditions.

This book is a wonderful resource for teachers of Canadian, Jewish, and social history, as well as auto/biography and cultural studies. The simplicity of the language, transcribed from oral reports, makes this work accessible to anyone who enjoys a good story.

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