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Life Stories

Tuesday, January 15, 2019 - 18:00 to 20:00
Monday, February 11, 2019 - 18:00 to 20:00
Tuesday, March 12, 2019 - 18:00 to 20:00

Contemporary Cultures of Writing

DATES: 15th January– 11th February – 12th March 2019

TIME: All seminars take place from 6.00-8.00pm

Download flyer with information about the seminars

Life Stories     

At a time when some writers are turning away from fiction towards memoir, while others are seeking to reinvent the novel form for a post-truth era, this series of seminars will look at the burgeoning area of life-writing and engage with how life stories, whether of self or other, are constructed, to what effect and for what purpose. It will consider the role of fiction in rendering the story of a life and reflect on what it means (for self and other) to write from life.

Through presentations by academics, critics, and writers, the spring 2019 seminar series convened by Fiona Doloughan and Heather Richardson on behalf of the Contemporary Cultures of Writing Research Group at the Open University will seek to engage with issues of representation and modes of narration, auto/biographical production and reception, and the impact of new technologies on presentation of self and other.  

The seminars are free and take place from 18.00 – 20.00 in January, February and March. Seminars will be held at FutureLearn, Camden and Senate House, University of London, Malet Street, London.

SEMINAR 1: Writing the self     Tuesday January 15th, The Court Room, Senate House     

This session will be concerned with writing about and constructing a sense of self. It will consider whether this might best be done through factual or fictional means, whether there is such a thing as an authentic self, or whether all accounts of self are necessarily fictions to a greater or lesser degree. It will also consider issues of culture in relation to modes of self-narration.

Novelist and film-maker Xiaolu Guo will discuss the construction of self in her recent memoir, Once Upon A Time in the East, and in relation to her previous fiction. Fiona Doloughan, Senior Lecturer in English (Literature and Creative Writing) at the Open University will contextualize some of the questions the series hopes to address and refer to Guo’s work from a literary critical perspective.

Reference list related to the discussion

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Fiona DOLOUGHAN is Senior Lecturer in English (Literature and Creative Writing) at The Open University, Milton Keynes, UK. Her research is centred on a number of related areas including Contemporary Narrative; Translation and Creativity; and, more recently, Auto/biography, Memoir and Autofiction. She has published two monographs, Contemporary Narrative: Textual production, multimodality and multiliteracies (Continuum, 2011) and English as a Literature in Translation (Bloomsbury Academic, 2016) in addition to a number of articles on contemporary fiction. She is currently working on a third monograph.

Xiaolu GUO is a London based novelist, essayist and filmmaker. Named as a Granta’s Best of Young British Novelists in 2013, she has published several novels and non fictions both in English and in Chinese. Her novels include A Concise Chinese English Dictionary for Lovers (shortlisted for the Orange Prize 2007), Village Of Stone (nominated for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize) and I Am China. Her memoir Once Upon A Time in the East won the National Book Critics Circle Award 2018, and was shortlisted for the Costa Book Award, RSL Ondaatje Award and Folio Prize. She is also an award winning filmmaker. Her feature film She, A Chinese received the Golden Leopard Award at Locarno Film Festival. She is currently a fellow at the Columbia Institute in Paris.

SEMINAR 2:  The lives of others: research and writing

Monday February 11th, Room 2BC, Futurelearn, Hawley Crescent, Camden 

This session will look at what it means to research and write about the lives of others. As well as considering a writer’s/biographer’s process, it will consider what her/his role might be, including the notion of “to give someone a fair hearing, to do them justice” (Holmes, 2017). It will also address the issue of how to create a dialogue with the past and why it might be important to revisit the lives of others and to reflect on the interplay between a writer and her/his subject. To what extent are the lives of others a foil for aspects of our own lives?

Professor of Poetry at the University of Roehampton Fiona Sampson will discuss her recent work including In Search of Mary Shelley: The Girl Who Wrote Frankenstein and forthcoming biography of Elizabeth Barrett Browning. She will be joined by Dean de la Motte, Professor of French and Comparative Literature at Salve Regina University, Newport, Rhode Island. Dean will be discussing his love affair with the Brontës and will be reading from his novel Oblivion: The Lost Diaries of Branwell Brontë.

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Dean DE LA MOTTEDean DE LA MOTTE, a native Californian, is Professor of French and Comparative Literature at Salve Regina University in Newport, RI (USA).  For much of his career (2000-2014) he served as a university administrator, first as a dean and then as a provost.  He has published articles and edited books on nineteenth-century French literature and culture, including Making the News: Modernity and the Mass Press in Nineteenth-Century France (University of Massachusetts Press, 1999, with art historian Jeannene Przyblyski).  He is passionate about the teaching of literature, and has contributed essays to the Modern Language Association’s popular series of Approaches to Teaching, including volumes devoted to Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, Balzac’s Old Goriot, Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, and Hugo’s Les Misérables (forthcoming).  He is also the co-editor, with Stirling Haig, of the MLA volume devoted to teaching Stendhal’s The Red and the Black (1999).  In what might, after teaching and administration, be considered a “third career,” he has just completed his first novel, Oblivion: The Lost Diaries of Branwell Brontë.  He spends most summers in Poitiers.

Fiona SAMPSON is a prize-winning poet and writer. She has been published in more than thirty languages and received an MBE for services to literature. A Fellow of the Royal Society for Literature and the recipient of a number of national and international honours for her poetry, her most recent book is a critically-acclaimed biography In Search of Mary Shelley and she is at work on a biography of Elizabeth Barrett Browning.




SEMINAR 3: Multimodal life stories

Tuesday March 12th, Room 2BC, Futurelearn, Hawley Crescent, Camden.

New and old technologies afford opportunities for inscribing life stories in different media. This session will consider modes of narration that go beyond the textual and/or combine modes to create a multimodal account of a life or lives, looking at diverse approaches including narrative textiles, collective biography and micro-blogging. What are the implications of such methodological innovations in telling people’s stories?

Katherine Collins, Leverhulme Early Career Fellow at Oxford's Department of Education from 2019, will read from and discuss a new piece provisionally entitled ‘I remember once I was a fine art student’, while Heather Richardson, Lecturer in Creative Writing at the Open University, will discuss her text and textile project, A dress for Kathleen, which has involved the creation of a garment-as-text to explore family and social history.

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Katherine COLLINS has held research posts at UWE and Goldsmiths College, and is currently working on the Andrew W. Mellon-funded Humanities & Identities project at TORCH. Her research interests include the creative and critical practices involved in the writing of marginalised and activist lives, issues like the politics and poetics of life-writing, testimonial cultures and witnessing, and autobiographies of resistance. She is currently researching a biography of three activists - Paulo Freire, Orlando Fals-Borda, and Muhammad Anisur Rahman - with particular attention to the ways in which their lived experiences of activist education and scholarship informed their theoretical contributions. From 2019 she will take up a post as a Leverhulme Early Career Fellow at Oxford's Department of Education.

Heather RICHARDSON is a Lecturer in Creative Writing at The Open University. Heather’s fiction, poetry and creative nonfiction has been published in magazines in the UK, Ireland, Europe and Australia, including Stinging Fly, Meniscus, Incubator and the European Journal of Life Writing. In 2000 she was winner of the Brian Moore Short Story Award. Her second novel, Doubting Thomas (Vagabond Voices, 2017) is based on the true story of the last man to be executed for blasphemy in Britain. Recently her creative nonfiction project, A dress for Kathleen, used text and textiles to explore family, memory and storytelling. One result of the project – a narrative textile – was exhibited at part of Northern Ireland’s first Linen Biennale in autumn 2018.

Contact Us

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The Postal Address is:

Department of English and Creative Writing
The Open University
Walton Hall
Milton Keynes

Tel +44-1908-652092