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CCWW ‘Being for Another: New Forms of Life-Writing by Women’

Written by Aggie Fanning |
CCWW 'Being for Another: New Forms of Life-Writing by Women

This day conference on 10 May 2024, organised by Claire Williams (University of Oxford) and Elisa Carandina (Institut National des Langues et Civilisations Orientales, Paris), brought together scholars working on and interested in women’s life-writing to explore, from a range of languages and transnational contexts, complex questions of gender and genre raised by the works of twenty and twenty-first century women writers.  

The first panel of the day, ‘New Forms of Life-Writing in the Luso-Hispanic World’ consisted of three presentations:

‘Intergenerational Autofictions and Impossible Conversations in Contemporary Spanish and French Women’s Life Writing’; Hannie Lawlor (University College Dublin)

‘Our Other Stories: Life-writing in Latin(as) America’; Liliana Chávez Díaz (University of St Andrew’s)

‘Biofiction and the Portuguese American Woman Life Writer’; Carmen Ramos Villar (University of Sheffield)

These papers brought out issues related to the implications of speaking for others, as well as the genealogical knowledge that can be gained through writing the self and writing about loss, placing emphasis on the ability autofictional texts have to make room for missing voices, especially female ones.

The second panel of the day, ‘New Forms of Life-Writing in Hebrew’, consisted of the following three presentations:

‘Reviving Communal Life Through Personal Memories: Gina Camhy’s Writings in Post-Holocaust Bosnia’; Zeljko Jovanovic (CERMOM, INALCO, Paris)

‘Orot BeAfala [Rays of Light]: Women Writing Life after October 7’; Judith Müller (Goethe-University Frankfurt am Main)

‘“Back then I couldn’t read any Yiddish”: Tea Arciszewska Narrates her Youth for Jewish Children in Postwar Paris’; Sonia Gollance (University College London)

This panel offered an insight into the importance of writing the past in Jewish communities, and the way in which women writing the self feeds into a wider historical narrative and collective memory. Life-writing and life-telling was discussed in the context of testimonies given as interviews, as well as the implications of writing about female victims of violence in the mainstream media.

In the afternoon, participants and speakers alike were invited to contribute to a roundtable discussion delving deeper into the topics and questions prompted by the earlier panels. Considerations included how women writing about others is not necessarily a sacrifice but can be a conscious choice, how as scholars we can only deal with the rhetoric of trauma as opposed to trauma itself, the nuances in meaning that emerge when the term ‘life-writing’ is translated, whether the only true form of representation can occur when the subject is the author, as opposed to a writer giving an‘other’ voice, and the issues that arise when a personal experience of violence becomes a national narrative or symbol. Working together to create a shared bibliography, this conference was a wonderful and productive way to explore current and new approaches to women’s life-writing. This event was generously sponsored by Fondation Inalco.

Aggie Fanning, 1st year DPhil student, Merton College, University of Oxford