Topic: Life Writing


Life-writing is form of autobiographical writing. According to Patti Millar, life-writing is “non-fiction writing on subjects of personal experience and observation; it includes autobiography, biography, memoir, memoirs, personal essay, and travel and sojourn writing.” It is very personal writing about your life or another person’s life. It is non-fictional writing which is done on the basis of observation and personal experience. When we do life-writing, we are using our memory and using our powers to describe and tell a story in a certain manner which shows our creativity. There are different types of life-writing such as:personal essays, interviews, testimony, diary, letters, blogging, emailing, autobiography, biography, journal writing, memoirs and etc. It is made up of different texts which includes fictional and non-fictional which are connected by a common theme: “self” or “life.” Almost everything is life-writing since it is combination of different genre into one. Most of all, life-writing has proved to be such powerful tool since it has ability to increase the development and growth of a person.

Critical Debate:

In the book, Essays on Life-writing:from genre to critical practice, Marlene Kadar discusses the genre of life-writing in depth. She describes life-writing “as genre of documents or fragments of documents written out of life, or unabashedly out of personal experience of the writer” (29). It comprises texts which are fictional and non-fictional which are linked by “a thematic concern of life or self” (29). This book also mentions that this genre is related to gender because of “reconstruction of women’s lives” (29). In describing this genre, Kadar provides us explanation that it is practiced by women who are interested in women’s life or way of life(31). Hermione Lee who is a biographer and Critics, has written a lot about life-writing. She gives justification that the term life-writing not only gives one way to tell the life of a writer, but in different ways to tell their story through memoir, personal essay, autobiography, biography, diary, journalism,letters, blogs and even fiction. She believes that the purpose of life-writing is “when the distinction between biography and autobiography is being deliberately blurred.” Critics use the word auto/biography to talk about both genres, autobiography and biography together. It was the period of Romanticism when this perspective started to emerge that all the writing include dimension of autobiography. Therefore, the distinction between autobiography and other forms of writing, autobiography has always been blurred. In Life-Writing, Cultural Memory, and Literary Studies, Max Saunders reacted to Hermione Lee’s quote by stating that “the two senses distinguished by Lee are then not distinct as they might have seemed. A memoir of someone else by virtue of the fact that you are writing about them because they are important in your life, will be part of your autobiography.” He continues that scholars are also immersing their lives in biographies of other in order to tell us something about their own biography. Their writings are displaced and therefore, it became the mixture of “fictionality.”

Examples of Life-writing:

  • James Nayler’s Testimony
  • St. Augustine’s autobiographical work
  • Anne Frank’s Diary 
  • Lucky by Alice Sebold
  • Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali 

  • A long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela 
  • Book of Days:Personal Essays by Emily Fix Gordon

  • Narrative of the life of Frederick Douglas 
  • The Autobiography by Benjamin Franklin 

  • Nora Ephron’s I Feel Bad About My Neck
  • Body Parts: Essays on Life-writing by Hermione Lee 

Contemporary trends:

Contemporary trends among life-writing include political autobiographies, celebrity’s biography, and survivor memoir. We see the trends of life-writing not only in the texts, but also on television and internet as well. We are able to do life writing on internet through the usage of myspace, blog and facebook. It is also popular because of reality shows that basically involves life-writing. The connection that we see between reality shows and life-writing is that both are very personal and it is dealing with someone’s life. In these shows, we see the portrayal of real people where we also get to hear their voices. As we watch these shows, it captures our attention and it really has the ability to move us since it is dealing with real life stories. When we watch these shows, we might find characters that we find connection to since we will be able to relate to those characters. Through these reality shows, we are able to see their lives. Some of the examples include: America’s Funniest Home Videos, America’s Top Model, Tyra Banks and Oprah which are personal and at the same time, they are dealing with someone’s life. These shows provide us representation of the life of ordinary people and as well as celebrities.

Life-writing is popular also because since it has many benefits. In 1975, psychologist Ira Progoff noticed that there are positive effects of life writing such as journal writing since it can enhance personal growth and learning. It also has ability to enhance individual’s thinking, develops their feelings and also helps to bring confidence especially with people who have low self-esteem. Also, by recording our memories, we can lower our risks of diseases such as dementia and Alzheimer. Life-writing enables family information as well as emotions and feelings about history to be remembered. For example, through life writing we are given opportunity to pass down our family traditions and culture. This can also be the reason that people are more interested in life-writing.

In 2005-2006, we see famous life-writing examples such as The Glass Castle:A Memoir by Jeanette Walls, Nora Ephron’s I Feel Bad About My Neck: and Other Thoughts on Being a Woman, Infidel, autobiography  by Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light – The Private Writings of the Saint of Calcutta by Brian Kolodiejchuk. Life-writing has always been very popular throughout the world. Life-writing has emerged to describe this field as whole. Within the genre of life-writing, there are sub genres that can be recognized. The reason that this genre had gained popularity is because it has been broken down into different sub-genres which also include diary, interview, personal essays, memoirs, autobiography, biography, blogging and etc. Because of this mixture of different texts, everything is almost life-writing. It has taken over the genre of autobiography, since this is more read by today’s society.


[Create My Opus]. “Life-writing Definitions “ CreatingMyOpus May 16, 2008. Web. October 13, 2010.

Kadar, Marlene. Essays on Life writing:from genre to critical practice. University of Toronto Press, 1992.

Saunders, Max. “Life-Writing, Cultural Memory, and Literary Studies,”  New York, 2008. Web. October 13, 2010.

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