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Defining a Field: The Encyclopedia of Life Writing

By Margaretta Jolly


The Encyclopedia of Life Writing, which I edited for Fitzroy Dearborn (subsequently Routledge), is the first large-scale reference work to tackle this subject area. The Encyclopedia contains 800-plus large-format, double-column pages, and includes some 650 entries on the various forms of auto/biographical writing that constitute the field now known as "life writing". My aim was to bring together for the first time the work on life writing across the globe and in historical perspective. Scandinavian life-story competitions, Chinese neo-Confucian 17th century autobiographies, American confessional television, African prison memoirs, Arabic Medieval biographical dictionaries: these are some of the topics covered in the entries on genres and sub-genres, national and regional traditions, important auto/biographical writers, as well as related fields such as oral history, ethnography, and psychoanalysis. In this article, I discuss the design of the project, some of the challenges and problems in defining it, and some reflections on the issues of life writing that it posed

Publisher: The Autobiography Society
Year: 1999
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