University of Wisconsin Press

Wisconsin Studies in Autobiography

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The Autobiographical Documentary in America

Jim Lane

Since the late 1960s, American film and video makers of all genres have been fascinated with themes of self and identity. Though the documentary form is most often used to capture the lives of others, Jim Lane turns his lens on those media makers who document their own lives and identities. He looks at the ways in which autobiographical documentaries—including Roger and Me, Sherman’s March, and Silverlake Life—raise weighty questions about American cultural life. What is the role of women in society? What does it mean to die from AIDS? How do race and class play out in our personal lives? What does it mean to be a member of a family? Examining the history, diversity, and theoretical underpinnings of this increasingly popular documentary form, Lane tracks a fundamental transformation of notions of both autobiography and documentary.

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Before They Could Vote

American Women's Autobiographical Writing, 1819–1919

Edited by Sidonie A. Smith and Julia Watson

The life narratives in this collection are by ethnically diverse women of energy and ambition—some well known, some forgotten over generations—who confronted barriers of gender, class, race, and sexual difference as they pursued or adapted to adventurous new lives in a rapidly changing America. The engaging selections—from captivity narratives to letters, manifestos, criminal confessions, and childhood sketches—span a hundred years in which women increasingly asserted themselves publicly. Some rose to positions of prominence as writers, activists, and artists; some sought education or wrote to support themselves and their families; some transgressed social norms in search of new possibilities. Each woman’s story is strikingly individual, yet the brief narratives in this anthology collectively chart bold new visions of women’s agency.

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The Blind African Slave

Memoirs of Boyrereau Brinch, Nicknamed Jeffrey Brace

Jeffrey Brace, as told to Benjamin F. Prentiss, Esq.

The Blind African Slave recounts the life of Jeffrey Brace (né Boyrereau Brinch), who was born in West Africa around 1742. Captured by slave traders at the age of sixteen, Brace was transported to Barbados, where he experienced the shock and trauma of slave-breaking and was sold to a New England ship captain. After fighting as an enslaved sailor for two years in the Seven Years War, Brace was taken to New Haven, Connecticut, and sold into slavery. After several years in New England, Brace enlisted in the Continental Army in hopes of winning his manumission. After five years of military service, he was honorably discharged and was freed from slavery. As a free man, he chose in 1784 to move to Vermont, the first state to make slavery illegal. There, he met and married an African woman, bought a farm, and raised a family. Although literate, he was blind when he decided to publish his life story, which he narrated to a white antislavery lawyer, Benjamin Prentiss, who published it in 1810. Upon his death in 1827, Brace was a well-respected abolitionist. In this first new edition since 1810, Kari J. Winter provides a historical introduction, annotations, and original documents that verify and supplement our knowledge of Brace's life and times.

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Caribbean Autobiography

Cultural Identity and Self-Representation

Sandra Pouchet Paquet

Despite the range and abundance of autobiographical writing from the Anglophone Caribbean, this book is the first to explore this literature fully. It covers works from the colonial era up to present-day AIDS memoirs and assesses the links between more familiar works by George Lamming, C. L. R. James, Derek Walcott, V. S. Naipaul, and Jamaica Kincaid and less frequently cited works by the Hart sisters, Mary Prince, Mary Seacole, Claude McKay, Yseult Bridges, Jean Rhys, Anna Mahase, and Kamau Brathwaite.
    Sandra Pouchet Paquet charts the intersection of multiple, contradictory viewpoints of the colonial and postcolonial Caribbean, differing concepts of community and levels of social integration, and a persistent pattern of both resistance and accommodation within island states that were largely shaped by British colonial practice from the mid-seventeenth through the mid-twentieth century. The texts examined here reflect the entire range of autobiographical practice, including the slave narrative and testimonial, written and oral narratives, spiritual autobiographies, fiction, serial autobiography, verse, diaries and journals, elegy, and parody.

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Conjoined Twins in Black and White

The Lives of Millie-Christine McKoy and Daisy and Violet Hilton

Edited by Linda Frost

Conjoined twins have long been a subject of fantasy, fascination, and freak shows. In this first collection of its kind, Millie-Christine McKoy, African American twins born in 1851, and Daisy and Violet Hilton, English twins born in 1908, speak for themselves through memoirs that help us understand what it is like to live physically joined to someone else.
    Conjoined Twins in Black and White provides contemporary readers with the twins’ autobiographies, the first two “show histories” to be republished since their original appearance, a previously unpublished novella, and a nineteenth-century medical examination, each of which attempts to define these women and reveal the issues of race, gender, and the body prompted by the twins themselves. The McKoys, born slaves, were kidnapped and taken to Britain, where they worked as entertainers until they were reunited with their mother in an emotional chance encounter. The Hiltons, cast away by their horrified mother at birth, worked the carnival circuit as vaudeville performers until the WWII economy forced them to the burlesque stage. The hardships, along with the triumphs, experienced by these very different sister sets lend insight into our fascination with conjoined twins.

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Dear World

Contemporary Uses of the Diary

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Diaries of Girls and Women

A Midwestern American Sampler

Suzanne L. Bunkers

Diaries of Girls and Women captures and preserves the diverse lives of forty-seven girls and women who lived in Minnesota, Iowa, and Wisconsin between 1837 and 1999—young schoolgirls, adolescents coming of age, newlywed wives, mothers grieving the loss of children, teachers, nurses, elderly women, Luxembourger immigrant nuns, and women traveling abroad. A compelling work of living history, it brings together both diaries from historical society archives and diaries still in possession of the diarists or their descendents.
     Editor Suzanne L. Bunkers has selected these excerpts from more than 450 diaries she examined. Some diaries were kept only briefly, others through an entire lifetime; some diaries are the intensely private record of a life, others tell the story of an entire family and were meant to be saved and appreciated by future generations. By approaching diaries as historical documents, therapeutic tools, and a form of literature, Bunkers offers readers insight into the self-images of girls and women, the dynamics of families and communities, and the kinds of contributions that girls and women have made, past and present. As a representation of the girls and women of varied historical eras, locales, races, and economic circumstances who settled and populated the Midwest, Diaries of Girls and Women adds texture and pattern to the fabric of American history.

 

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The Education of a WASP

Lois M. Stalvey

Brimming with honestly and passion, The Education of a WASP chronicles one white woman's discovery of racism in 1960s America. First published in 1970 and highly acclaimed by reviewers, Lois Stalvey's account is as timely now as it was then. Nearly twenty years later, with ugly racial incidents occurring on college campuses, in neighborhoods, and in workplaces everywhere, her account of personal encounters with racism remains deeply disturbing. Educators and general readers interested in the subtleties of racism will find the story poignant, revealing, and profoundly moving.

“Delightful and horrible, a singular book.” —Choice

“An extraordinarily honest and revealing book that poses the issue: loyalty to one’s ethnic group or loyalty to conscience.” —Publishers Weekly

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Four Russian Serf Narratives

Translated, edited, and with an introduction by John MacKay

Although millions of Russians lived as serfs until the middle of the nineteenth century, little is known about their lives. Identifying and documenting the conditions of Russian serfs has proven difficult because the Russian state discouraged literacy among the serfs and censored public expressions of dissent. To date scholars have identified only twenty known Russian serf narratives.
    Four Russian Serf Narratives contains four of these accounts and is the first translated collection of autobiographies by serfs. Scholar and translator John MacKay brings to light for an English-language audience a diverse sampling of Russian serf narratives, ranging from an autobiographical poem to stories of adventure and escape. “Autobiography” (1785) recounts a highly educated serf’s attempt to escape to Europe, where he hoped to study architecture. The long testimonial poem “News About Russia” (ca. 1849) laments the conditions under which the author and his fellow serfs lived. In “The Story of My Life and Wanderings” (1881) a serf tradesman tells of his attempt to simultaneously escape serfdom and captivity from Chechen mountaineers. The fragmentary “Notes of a Serf Woman” (1911) testifies to the harshness of peasant life with extraordinary acuity and descriptive power.
    These accounts offer readers a glimpse, from the point of view of the serfs themselves, into the realities of one of the largest systems of unfree labor in history. The volume also allows comparison with slave narratives produced in the United States and elsewhere, adding an important dimension to knowledge of the institution of slavery and the experience of enslavement in modern times.

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Graphic Subjects

Critical Essays on Autobiography and Graphic Novels

Michael A. Chaney

Some of the most noteworthy graphic novels and comic books of recent years have been entirely autobiographical. In Graphic Subjects, Michael A. Chaney brings together a lively mix of scholars to examine the use of autobiography within graphic novels, including such critically acclaimed examples as Art Spiegelman’s Maus, David Beauchard’s Epileptic, Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis, Alan Moore’s Watchmen, and Gene Yang’s American Born Chinese.

            These essays, accompanied by visual examples, illuminate the new horizons that illustrated autobiographical narrative creates. The volume insightfully highlights the ways that graphic novelists and literary cartoonists have incorporated history, experience, and life stories into their work. The result is a challenging and innovative collection that reveals the combined power of autobiography and the graphic novel.

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