School of English Literature, Language and Linguistics

Life-writing

Life-writing

The life-writing research cluster has expertise in both the critical and the creative, investigating the possibilities and limits of life-writing, and challenging the conventions of autobiography.

Creative writers in the School who work on memoir include William Fiennes and Professor Jackie Kay. Fiennes' The Snow Geese (2002), which won the Hawthornden Prize and the Somerset Maugham Award, and his Music Room (2009), shortlisted for five major prizes, both investigate questions of home and place, and are rooted in autobiography. Kay's multi-award winning Red Dust Road (2010) is not only an autobiography, but uses memoir to challenge and extend public discourse on questions of identity, family and belonging. Professor Kay's search for her birth parents becomes a vehicle for considering issues of adoption, racism and nation. Her poetry collection Fiere (2011) is the 'lyric counterpart' to Red Dust Road, exploring the same issues in verse.

This work complements critical work on autobiography being undertaken by colleagues in our Literature Subject Group. Professor Linda Anderson has produced important studies of the life and work of Elizabeth Bishop, culminating in her monograph Elizabeth Bishop: Lines of Connection (2013). But she also examines the theory of autobiography: for instance in relation to Edward Said and her ground-breaking book, Autobiography (revised edition 2011).

Complementing work on W.G. Sebald and on trauma fiction, Dr Anne Whitehead's recent research has investigated life-writing by analysing the history and praxis of memory. Dr Whitehead has also worked on the autobiographical writing of authors such as Wole Soyinka, Sindiwe Magona and Kazuo Ishiguro.

Emeritus Professor John Batchelor has written a number of biographies on figures including Mervyn Peake, Joseph Conrad, Pauline Lady Trevelyan, John Ruskin and, most recently, Alfred Lord Tennyson.

The Newcastle Centre for Literary Arts has run many public events and readings with established life-writers since its inception in 2009.

Postgraduate study

The School runs short courses on life-writing both for students on the PG Diploma in Creative Writing, and students on the MA in Creative Writing course. Further information on these courses is available in our Postgraduate Study section.