Biography 24.1 (2001) ix-xx
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Autobiography and Changing Identities:
Susanna Egan and Gabriele Helms
The papers we have brought together in this volume are not the proceedings of the Autobiography and Changing Identities Conference, held in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, 27-30 July 2000, but a selection of what was already a selection of amazing submissions to our call for papers on "changing identities." As editors, therefore, we have a lot to answer for. We are glad of this opportunity to describe and reflect on the editorial process of selection both for the conference and for this publication.
Shirley Neuman, then Dean of Arts at the University of British Columbia, was heavily involved with the call for papers and with the selection. By the time she moved to the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor as Dean of the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts in 1999, the program existed in draft form. For many of the most wonderful features of the conference that followed, from hospitality to visiting speakers to significant student registration provided with no charge, we thank Shirley Neuman for donating her research funding when she moved from UBC. Her work in auto/biography studies, especially in the Canadian context, has been central to our developing interests over the years. Recognizing her contributions to the field and thanking her for her vision, enthusiasm, and generosity, the guest editors of this issue of Biography dedicate this volume to her.
The call for papers that went out in 1998 identified "changing identities" as a key area for current research because it invited work in a number of important areas and brought it together under a single heading that managed to invite diversity and suggest process. Auto/biography studies had developed by then from discussion of authoritative voices from an established culture to an exploration of insistent voices determined to challenge the mainstream and affect cultural perception of previously undervalued lives. "Changing Identities," we felt, was where things were at. We were also interested in receiving [End Page ix] work on auto/biographies that involve significant displacement or reconstruction of "self" and identity on the part of the autobiographical subject because such work tended to use and to push at the limits of contemporary auto/biography theory. In particular, we identified trauma, multiculturalism, diaspora, migration, nation, gender, sexuality, and class as focus points, but carefully avoided limiting submissions to these areas. In general, we expressed interest in non-literary forms of auto/biography. Unfortunately, this volume does not represent as wide a treatment of non-literary forms as we had hoped for, partly because of practical matters (like the inability of one presenter to come to the conference at all, or the unavailability of another paper, and so on) and partly because other criteria became more pronounced when we received the full presentations and papers at the conference. We were interested, for example, to rediscover how important it was to us that arguments and texts be fully theorized; we found much potentially ground-breaking work in non-literary forms more descriptive than theoretical, and therefore not ready, we felt, to take discussion of auto/biography to a new plane.
And this, in the end, was our immodest ambition: that papers and discussion at the Autobiography and Changing Identities Conference should move discussion forward, that we should be looking not just at new materials but also at new materials (and old) in new ways. We cannot claim to have planned the clustering that follows in these pages--at this point we were reacting to the issues that conference participants had emphasized--but we note that "Performing Identities," "Exploring Ethics," and "Narrating Nation" are all recent theoretical concerns. They do not describe the content so much as the questions arising in each paper. All of them address the personal and the communal politics of time and place, and speak accordingly to the cultural work of auto/biography studies in our time. As we reflect on the achievements and the shortcomings of this volume, we note with pride that the papers providing these...