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December 13, 2008, 2:30 PM

Autobiography/Biography: Narrating the Self

Participants: Nicholson Baker, David Shields, Judith Thurman, Simon Winchester, Louise Yelin (moderator)

In his famous essay, "Tradition and the Individual Talent," T.S. Eliot argued for the impersonality of the artistic enterprise, but it is impossible not to imagine a life, a personality, an autobiography hovering above any artistic work. Even when the subject is not ostensibly autobiographical, the artist inevitably exposes aspects of the self. How do biographers use the material of an individual's life as the palette from which to produce their own work? How does an autobiographer shape the self in narrative form? This panel will explore the autobiographic impulse, and the ways in which telling another's story interacts with the biographer's sense of his or her own identity.

Nicholson Baker has published seven novels—The Mezzanine (1988), Room Temperature (1990), Vox (1992), The Fermata (1994), The Everlasting Story of Nory (1998), A Box of Matches (2003), and Checkpoint (2004)&mdashand four works of nonfiction, U and I (1991), The Size of Thoughts (1996), Double Fold (2001, National Book Critics Circle Award winner), and Human Smoke (2008). His work has been published by The New Yorker, The Atlantic, Harper's, New York Review of Books, Best American Short Stories, and Best American Essays. In 1999 he founded the American Newspaper Repository, and in 2004 the newspaper collection moved to Duke University.

David Shields is the author of ten books of fiction and nonfiction, including the New York Times bestseller The Thing About Life Is That One Day You'll Be Dead, Reality Hunger: A Manifesto (forthcoming from Knopf in 2009), Black Planet: Facing Race during an NBA Season (a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award), Remote: Reflections on Life in the Shadow of Celebrity (winner of the PEN Revson Award), and Dead Languages: A Novel (winner of the PEN Syndicated Fiction Award). His work has been translated into German, French, Dutch, Norwegian, Portuguese, Turkish, Farsi, Korean, and Japanese. The chair of the 2007 National Book Awards nonfiction panel, he has received a Guggenheim fellowship, two NEA fellowships, an Ingram Merrill Foundation Award, a Ludwig Vogelstein Foundation grant, and a New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship. His essays and stories have appeared in the New York Times Magazine, Harper's, Yale Review, Village Voice, Salon, Slate, McSweeney's, and Believer.

Judith Thurman is the author of Isak Dinesen: The Life of a Storyteller, which won the National Book Award for non-fiction and was the principal source for Sydney Pollack's Oscar-winning film, Out of Africa; Secrets of the Flesh: A Life of Colette, which won the Salon and Los Angeles Times Book Awards for Biography and was short-listed for the Pulitzer Prize; and Cleopatra's Nose, published last autumn, a collection of her essays from twenty years at The New Yorker. She has been a Staff Writer at the magazine since 2000.

Simon Winchester is an author, journalist, and broadcaster who has worked as a foreign correspondent for most of his career so far. His journalistic work, mainly for The Guardian and The Sunday Times, has based him in Belfast, Washington, New Delhi, New York, London, and Hong Kong, and he covered such stories as the the fall of Ferdinand Marcos, the Watergate affair, the Jonestown Massacre, the assassination of Anwar Sadat, and the Falklands War, during which he was arrested and spent three months in prison on spying charges. He now works principally as an author and contributes to several magazines, including Harper's, The Smithsonian, National Geographic, The Spectator, Granta, The New York Times, and The Atlantic Monthly. He writes and presents television programs on a variety of historical topics and is a frequent contributor to BBC radio's From Our Own Correspondent. His books include The River at the Center of the World, The Professor and the Madman, The Fracture Zone, A Return to the Balkans, The Map that Changed the World, and most recently, The Man Who Loved China.

Louise Yelin is Interim Dean of Humanities, Professor of Literature, and Adjunct Curator at the Neuberger Museum of Art, all at Purchase College, State University of New York. She is the author of From the Margins of Empire: Christina Stead, Doris Lessing, Nadine Gordimer and numerous essays on feminism, narrative, and identity. She is currently working on two project—curating "British Subjects: Identity and Self-Fashioning 1948-2000," an exhibition of recent and contemporary self-portraits at the Neuberger Museum of Art, and writing a book, entitled British Lives: Windrush to Parekh, about autobiography and self-portraiture in Britain since the Second World War. Both projects explore the intersection of individual and collective, national and transnational, ways of understanding, representing, and fashioning identity.


Discussion Board

This forum allows for an ongoing discussion of the above Philoctetes event. You may use this space to share your thoughts or to pose questions for panelists. An attempt will be made to address questions during the live event or as part of a continued online dialogue.
janine beichman says:
will there be a video posted online of this event? i really wanted to attend but was unable to.

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