- Editors' Note
As readers of Biography probably know, over the past ten or fifteen years, countless books, articles, and reviews in the academic and the public realms have trumpeted this as an age of autobiography, and/or biography. For the most part, though, this has referred to an ever-rising flood of published or recorded lives. But has this first wave produced a second wave of critical and theoretical responses to it? Or to put it another way, are we experiencing a boom in critical work about life writing?
A few signs suggest that the answer is yes. Take for example our annual annotated bibliography of works about life writing. In the Fall of 2000, we remarked that "The sheer numbers are impressive: 480 annotated entries make up this installment." In 2005, the same bibliography contained almost 1,000 entries. Clearly, people are writing—and publishing—about life writing.
Conferences and announcements of publishing opportunities? A quick look at the archives of IABA-L, the life writing studies listserv which currently has about 500 members, reveals that while in 2001 and 2002 approximately 170 notices were posted a year, in 2003, 2004, and 2005 this number jumped to roughly 230. And another huge surge seems to be taking place right now. As of mid-July 2006, 200 notices have been posted this year. As for publishing venues, the last two or three years have also brought us the new journal Life Writing from Australia, a transformed Auto/Biography: An International and Interdisciplinary Journal from Great Britain, and the new Lifewriting Annual from the United States.
Programs, centers, and research initiatives? Biography and autobiography centers have been established in Australia, Austria, and Scotland in the past year or two, with other seminars, research initiatives, and lecture series being proposed, and often funded, on several continents.
Institutional presence? We're still not seeing many job advertisements explicitly for specialists in life writing, but the numbers above suggest that many more people, in many more departments, and in many more places, are producing work in the field. Actual courses in life writing are being taught widely; the Modern Language Association will be shortly publishing a very substantial volume on life writing pedagogy in its Options in Teaching series. And when we add to these facts the increasing numbers of Creative Non-Fiction workshops in writing programs; the amount of rhetorical analysis being directed at non-literary texts; the increasing interest in indigenous literature [End Page v] and orature, often including genealogical studies, within a number of disciplines; and the strengthening emphasis on life narrative in so many fields, we think it's fair to say that life writing studies are hardly static, and certainly not in decline.
Directions for the future? Life writing studies must become increasingly comparative and global, but as in so many fields, language remains a major obstacle for international discussion and cooperation. Conferences are taking place in a stunning variety of locations, but despite the inherently multi-cultural nature of our field, many gatherings take place with only a few words being spoken in the languages of the host country—or in any language other than the new Lingua Franca, English. We also think that without seeking to establish a canon, the field, and people doing work in it, will benefit from becoming more familiar with the most influential works on life writing theory and criticism. If nothing else, such familiarity leads to a greater sense of possibility.
Biography and the Center for Biographical Research hope to continue participating in the discussion, and to suggest new topics and set new directions for the widening field.