Defining Life Writing

We all know what life writing is…biography and autobiography, right? I mean, there are shelves in bookstores and libraries dedicated to them, we’ve read them, we’ve watched representations of them on TV and in film, perhaps we’ve even attempted to write them. They are the record of a life, one’s own or another’s. But is it really as simple as that?

Menu of Your LifeTake a moment now to think about life writing, about biography and autobiography. How would you define them?


As for me, I would define them as the recording of the events of a life; the recording of the experience of these events and the lessons that were gleamed from these events. They are the recording of daily stuff and big picture threads that weave together throughout a life.


Timothy Dow Adams says life writing includes “personal literary criticism, confession, oral history, daybook, documentary […] film and television autobiographies, performance art, and as-told-to autobiography, as well as poetry”. Sidonie Smith and Julia Watson define it as “a general term for writing of diverse kinds that takes a life as its subject. [That can be] novelistic, historical…” John Paul Eakin believes life writing can include ‘interviews, profiles, ethnographies, case studies, diaries, web pages, and so on.’


Life writing is a broad genre that dips in and out of other areas of study, like history, psychology, sociology, politics, etc., and can include a range of writing types: testimony, diaries, letters, personal web page narratives, travel narratives, and then some!


As for the subject of life writing, it is not only celebrities being written about. Peruse a few book stores or do a blog search and you’ll find a multitude of famous and obscure lives being documented…these are even documented within the 140 characters available per Twitter tweet! The lives of celebrities and non-celebrities alike are being recorded by professional and non-professional writers at a phenomenal rate as our access to technology increases.


You might well wonder why this is the case? You only have to take a look at the news to see we have greater insight into other’s lives today than we ever had before. The Internet has created connections that give us insight and access into the lives of people in even the remotest of areas on the other side of the world, and this fuels our fascination with ourselves, with that which is common to humanity and remarkable in individuals. We see all facets of the human race: the face of the celebrity and that of the marginalised are equally exposed. With the advent of new technologies and Social Media, we see the humanity in the individual and the individual in humanity…and this inspires us, shows us how to live, explains and exposes the world and allows us to locate ourselves within mix.


Over the next few blogs, I will explore life writing in more details, but for now, I’d love to hear your thoughts. How do you define life writing?


Photo credit: Menu of Your Life


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2 thoughts on “Defining Life Writing

  1. Pingback: Life Writing: Borrowing From Fiction :: Shel SweeneyShel Sweeney

  2. Pingback: Life Writing: Borrowing From Fiction - A Worded Life

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