Biography, vol. 25, no. 1 (2002)

SPECIAL ISSUE: Biography and Geography

Editor’s Introduction, p. iv


Sarah Ann Wider and Ellen Percy Kraly

The Contour of Unknown Lives: Mapping Women’s Experience in the Adirondacks, p. 1

Women have rarely been written into the literary and social histories of woods life. This uneasy silence begins to speak through the carefully created camp designed in the 1920s by Adelaide Breckenridge and Katharine Whited. Their Adirondack home, with its book collection, annotated topographical maps, and quotation book, opens the door into a vibrant women’s community, while shedding light on the literary traditions that created and documented it.

Norma Tilden

Stratigraphies: Writing a Suspect Terrain, p. 25

In Annals of the Former World, John McPhee chronicles the geological history of the landform “North America,” connecting written histories with the earth’s autobiography as written in rock. By incorporating the journal of Ethel Waxham, who traveled West to teach school in 1905, into these sweeping geological annals, McPhee presents life writing as a narrative and figural corollary to earth processes.

Jennifer M. Lloyd

Collective Memory, Commemoration, Memory, and History: Or William O’Brien, the Bible Christians, and Me, p. 46

An experiment in combining autobiography with history, the essay explores the meanings of a writer’s chance encounter on a return to the Cornish farm where she grew up. These include the nature and failure of collective memory, the significance of acts of commemoration, and the importance of a shared location in shaping historical research.

Johanna Frank

Bearing Proxy-Witness, p. 58

“Bearing Proxy-Witness” explores the relationship between ghostwriting and proxy-witnessing an historical trauma. Focusing on a collection of letters written by a member of Patton’s Third Army who liberated Nazi concentration camps, this essay examines the effects of writing another’s experience — across national and generational geographies — in the construction of identity.

Katrina M. Powell

Writing the Geography of the Blue Ridge Mountains: How Displacement Recorded the Land, p. 73

This article discusses the multiple rhetoric(s) surrounding the displacement of mountain families in forming the Shenandoah National Park. Past and present representations of that displacement have made for a complex and vexed biography of the landscape of the Blue Ridge Mountains. This project argues that an examination of historical and contemporary representations together will provide further insight into that complexity.

Deborah Reed-Danahay

Sites of Memory: Women’s Autoethnographies from Rural France, p. 95

At the same time that France’s family farms declined in number during the latter half of the twentieth century, they increasingly became a site of collective memory and nostalgia. The published life stories of three French farm women, born in 1880, 1900, and 1919, illustrate the discursive frameworks through which gendered rural lives are constructed in contemporary autobiographical genres.

John MacKay

“And Hold the Bondman Still”: Biogeography and Utopia in Slave and Serf Narratives, p. 110

This article reads the contrasting topographies structuring autobiographical narratives by US slaves and Russian serfs as constitutive of specific imaginings of freedom and constraints on freedom. It argues for seeing the classic “passage” of the bondsman from slavery to freedom as a kind of “passing” involving the manipulation of categories provided by dominant racial (US) or state (Russia) ideologies. The final inability of the bondsman to “pass” into a space of true freedom forces us to posit a fourth space, beyond those of bondage, liberty, or exile. This (non-)space is utopia, perceived largely though the way the putative goal of the escaping slave falls short of being a true “land of liberty.”

Mary A. Procida

“The Greater Part of My Life Has Been Spent in India”: Autobiography and the Crisis of Empire in the Twentieth Century, p. 130

British men and women in India linked the intimate personal events of their individual and family histories with the public, political questions of empire during the twentieth century. In their autobiographies they conflated the personal and the political to validate not only their own lives, but the role of British imperialism in India as well.

Barbara Harlow

Redlined Africa: Ruth First’s Barrel of a Gun, p. 151

The Barrel of a Gun is part and parcel of First’s own story, her intellectual history as a South African communist and anti-apartheid activist who died in exile, a story that necessarily combines both biography and bibliography. This essay examines both the composition of the book — its research as told in First’s correspondence at the time as well as the book’s final draft — and its “after life” — in the reviews and debates it elicited on publication and in a retrospective consideration of its prophetic prescience or, perhaps, its foibled failure as not an “account devoted exclusively to fact.” In other words, The Barrel of a Gun both proposes a study of coups in Africa (with special reference to the Sudan, Nigeria, and Ghana) and provides a chapter in the life of Ruth First and her own contributions to the “liberation of Africa.”

Georgia Johnston

Geographies of the Closet: The Lives of Paul Monette, p. 171

Becoming a Man, Monette’s 1992 autobiography, doubles its “I.” One “I” inhabits the gay closet, a geographical space, while the other “I,” having arrived at a gay identity, reads that earlier self. The autobiography “map[s]” the process of “becoming” an “I” able to lead a fully gay life.

Mieke Bal

Autotopography: Louise Bourgeois as Builder, p. 180

What happens if the timeline implied in “bio-” in auto-biography is replaced by its spatial counterpart, “topo-”? Surely space is as influential for a person’s sense of who she is as is the constantly changing series of discontinuities that constitutes a life. In this paper, an installation work by Louise Bourgeois is the interlocutor in my attempt to articulate what a spatial autobiography can be.

Susanne Antonetta

Living on the Human Road, p. 203

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