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Getting a Life

Everyday Uses of Autobiography

1996

Sidonie Smith and Julia Watson, editors

Getting a Life

From résumés to personal ads, from talk shows to self-help groups, autobiographical storytelling has become a central theme of American culture. Getting a Life is an innovative examination of how personal narratives have become central in circulating multiple, overlapping, provisional identities-and how those identities are negotiated or resisted in everyday life.

From résumés to personal ads, from talk shows to self-help groups, autobiographical storytelling has become a central theme of American culture. Getting a Life is an innovative examination of how personal narratives have become central in circulating multiple, overlapping, provisional identities-and how those identities are negotiated or resisted in everyday life.

Contributors: Linda Martin Alcoff, Philip E. Baruth, H-Dirksen L. Bauman, Michael Blitz, Traci Carroll, William Chaloupka, Salome Chasnoff, Kay K. Cook, Martin A. Danahay, Laura Gray-Rosendale, Linda S. Kauffman, Louise Krasniewicz, Helena Michie, Sandra Patton, Janice Peck, Robyn R. Warhol, Susan Ostrov Weisser.

These essays forge a new path in a well-established field of inquiry by challenging a number of heretofore unexamined assumptions about how a ‘life’ is constituted, judged worthy of attention, and made representable.

Lee Quinby

Getting a Life

Tags

Literature

From résumés to personal ads, from talk shows to self-help groups, autobiographical storytelling has become a central theme of American culture. Visual media offer a dazzling display of possible lives through soap operas, talk shows, music videos, and “lifestyle programming”; newspapers and magazines frame their stories as “personality profiles.” We construct public identities through the cars we drive, the beverages we drink, the clothes we wear. Exploring a variety of everyday occasions during which people assemble, circulate, and consume personal narratives, this collection expands our understanding of how we negotiate and commodify identity.

Many kinds of personal storytelling are explored, among them self-description in personal ads, the “new” talk shows, transracial adoption and African American identity, twelve-step programs, survivor discourse in narratives of sexual assault, signing in deaf communities, genealogical pedigrees, and autistic life stories. Getting a Life is an innovative examination of how autobiographical stories have become central in circulating multiple, overlapping, provisional identities-and how those identities are negotiated or resisted in everyday life.

Contributors: Linda Martin Alcoff, Syracuse U; Philip E. Baruth, U of Vermont; H-Dirksen L. Bauman, Rochester Institute of Technology; Michael Blitz, CUNY; Traci Carroll, Rhodes College; William Chaloupka, U of Montana; Salome Chasnoff; Kay K. Cook, Southern Utah U; Martin A. Danahay, Emory U; Laura Gray-Rosendale; Linda S. Kauffman, U of Maryland; Louise Krasniewicz, UCLA; Helena Michie, Rice U; Sandra Patton; Janice Peck, U of Colorado; Robyn R. Warhol, U of Vermont; Susan Ostrov Weisser, Adelphi U.


Getting a Life

Sidonie Smith is professor of English, comparative literature, and women’s studies at Binghamton University. Julia Watson is professor of liberal studies and director of women’s studies at the University of Montana. Together they edited De/Colonizing the Subject: The Politics of Gender in Women’s Autobiography (Minnesota, 1992).

Getting a Life

These essays forge a new path in a well-established field of inquiry by challenging a number of heretofore unexamined assumptions about how a ‘life’ is constituted, judged worthy of attention, and made representable.

Lee Quinby

So innovative that it will stand as a model for refiguring the field of autobiography.

Caren Kaplan, University of California, Berkeley

This is a terrific book. Smith and Watson have once again presented us with an intriguing and valuable addition to the ongoing critical discussions of autobiography as form. Their volume is informative, lucid, and accessible, not to mention playful and idiosyncratic in ways that seem appropriate to the postmodern world in which they and we live.

Biography

It might be called the confessing of America. From ‘Oprah’ to Alcoholics Anonymous, from personal ads to performance art, Americans are talking, revealing, narrating. . . ‘We are habitual authenticators of our own lives,’ write the editors. ‘If we are not telling our stories, we are consuming other people’s lives.’

Nota Bene, The Chronicle of Higher Education

A provocative collection of essays in the field of American cultural studies, Getting a Life brings together with humor and rigor an alternately serious and entertaining array of contributions on ‘autobiographical acts in everyday occasions’ ranging from talk shows to DNA, pornography to morphing, transracial adoption to personal ads, and deafness to breast cancer. The book is an engrossing mirror that will generate shocks of recognition among academics, artists, housewives, survivors, teen mothers, genealogists, and adoptees, were they all to read it.

Signs

From the outset of this startling collection of essays, we’re in for a whirl. Commonplace categories of autobiography criticism take on an entirely new coloring when the ‘texts’ in question are no longer literary, nor in some cases written documents. Getting a Life proclaims that you do not have to be a writer to have an autobiography; the narratives are everywhere.

A/B: Auto/Biography Studies