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  • Editor's Note
  • Craig Howes

July 2019 marks the twentieth anniversary of the creation of the International Autobiography and Biography Association Listserv, the first major outcome of the founding of IABA in Beijing, in June of 1999. It would be hard to select a more important sequence of events for the growth and development of life writing as a field and as a discipline; in this Editor's Note, I want to reflect briefly upon the impact of IABA and its e-list on Biography: An Interdisciplinary Quarterly and the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa's Center for Biographical Research.

When the international roster of lifewriting scholars attending what was billed as the First International Conference on Auto/Biography gathered together on the last day, we all knew that the mandate for this session was to create an international organization. The question of course was what kind? The origin story has been told by a number of the participants, but basically, what emerged was an informal body, with no executive or official members, whose mission was a) to insure that attendees at any subsequent IABA conference would know when and where the next one would be, and b) to inform people with an interest in life writing about calls for papers, upcoming conferences and seminars, and new publications in the field, including the contents of the regular and special issues of the existing lifewriting journals.

Both parts of the founding mission have been fulfilled, and by creating and managing the listserv IABA-L, Biography and the Center for Biographical Research have played an important role in realizing the second part. The first handful of list members were attendees at the Beijing conference. They spread the word, the number of subscribers multiplied, and as of July 2019, the list has over 1,300 subscribers, representing more than fifty countries.

It has not ever been a chatty list—more like a bulletin board. But literally thousands of announcements have been posted—some from subscribers, some gathered by the moderators. These have included information about upcoming IABA international and regional conferences, but also about planned special issues or edited collections, new books and reference works about life writing, and the activities of journals and other centers around the world.

For the first fifteen years, IABA-L was simply an email list. Then it underwent a fairly substantial makeover, redesigned to be more convenient and useful for subscribers. While the postings still go out by email, now Facebook and Twitter are also delivery options. In addition, the postings are now archived on the home page [End Page v] of the Center for Biographical Research. Especially useful is a roster of still active publishing and conference opportunities, listed by upcoming deadline. Anyone can therefore easily relocate a recent posting, or browse through current opportunities. Once the deadline has passed, the postings are archived by date, creating an ever-expanding profile of activities in the field. A third list contains the announcements of subscriber publications—an easy way to keep up to date with recent developments in criticism and theory.

The benefits of hosting IABA-L for this journal and the Center have been substantial. From its inception, Biography has been determined to be interdisciplinary and international. In the late 1970s, 1980s, and even up to the mid-1990s, however, this was easier to desire than to realize. By taking on the responsibility for serving as the primary distribution center for information about lifewriting activities around the world, the Center insured that it was aware of what was going on right then, and it frequently pursued cosponsorships or publishing arrangements with people first encountered through the list who shared our international interests.

I'll mention two of the most significant results. First, our annual bibliography of critical work on life writing has expanded greatly to accommodate those publications that IABA-L was announcing almost weekly. Second, our awareness through the list of who was doing important work in various locations led to the creation of the International Year in Review—an annual feature containing essays by representatives of over twenty regions that provide our readers with snapshots of significant publications or lifewriting trends.



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