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  • Remembering Tim Dow Adams (1943–2014)
  • Craig Howes (bio)

Everyone familiar with Timothy Dow Adams’s tremendous contributions to life writing as a teacher, scholar, conference organizer, and journal co-founder was shocked and saddened to hear of his death in October of 2014. Because Tim was so important to the history of a/b: Auto/Biography Studies, it was appropriate that the tributes should appear there, and readers should refer to the Autumn 2014 issue for heartfelt pieces by Joseph and Rebecca Hogan, John Eakin, Julia Watson, Tom Smith, Sidonie Smith, and Tom Couser. But Tim was such a productive and engaging scholar that he had a significant history with Biography and the Center for Biographical Research as well, so I’d like to offer a brief remembrance of his frequent visits to our corner of the field.

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Photo courtesy of Gail Adams.

Over the course of twenty-seven years, Tim published four essays, reviewed two books, and had two of his own books reviewed in Biography. He first surfaced in the Summer of 1982, with an essay on “The Mock-Autobiography of Edwin Mullhouse.” The journal was barely five years old, and he clearly impressed the editors, who immediately asked him to review a book on fiction and design in modern American biography. Tim’s assessment appeared the following Spring, and it displays the flair and honesty that his writing always did. The book was “compelling, important, provocative, thoughtful, and steeped in the scholarship of biography,” but “Unfortunately, it is also flawed in terms of its organization and its thesis.” Typically, he ends by encouraging his fellow scholar, yet returning to what needed fixing: [End Page 487] “His thesis is so original, the application so strong, that the reader eagerly awaits” his future work, “now that his theory is in place.”

Shortly after this, Tim became one of the founders of the Autobiography Society, and its journal a/b. Of course, Biography continued to pay attention to his important work, publishing a lengthy and very favorable review of his 1990 book Telling Lies in Modern American Autobiography in the Spring of 1992. When I took over the editorship in 1994, we faced a formidable backlog of accepted articles, but in summer of 1995, while digging out from underneath the pile, we received a submission over the transom from Tim that appeared in the Spring 1997 issue as “Deafness and Deftness in CODA Autobiography: Ruth Sidransky’s In Silence and Lou Ann Walker’s A Loss for Words.” The essay was anonymously reviewed, and as is the case with virtually everything we eventually publish, the initial evaluation was revise and resubmit. Tim was as always efficient—we sent our comments to him on October 26th, and he had a very substantial revision back to us by November 20th. This was also the beginning of an enjoyable back-and-forth. I wrote in my cover letter that “I was very glad to see that someone involved with a/b had sent us an essay” (my first sally, perhaps, toward establishing warm relations between the two journals), and he wrote back that he was “appreciative of the time and energy you and your readers have given to my work.” Of course it helped that we really liked the article: one reviewer had remarked that a few more revisions “would make one of the most interesting essays I’ve read for Biography one of the two or three best.” That December, I took the final acceptance letter with me to the Modern Language Association convention, where at the Division cash bar I first met Tim and many other members of the Autobiography Society, beginning friendships that continue to this day.

In 2000, we commissioned a review of Tim’s impressive and prophetic book Light Writing and Life Writing: Photography in Autobiography, one of the first major studies to interrogate the interplay between image and word in life writing. The review was very positive—“It is an impressive example of visual literacy, opening our eyes to the possibilities of a complex and hybrid creative form”—but the reviewer had some reservations about the argument in places...


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pp. 487-490
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