What is Life-Writing?

Life-writing involves, and goes beyond, biography. It encompasses everything from the complete life to the day-in-the-life, from the fictional to the factional. It embraces the lives of objects and institutions as well as the lives of individuals, families and groups.

Life-writing includes biography, autobiography, memoirs, letters, diaries, journals, anthropological data, oral testimony, eye-witness accounts, biopics, plays and musical performances, obituaries, scandal sheets, and gossip columns, blogs, and social media such as Tweets and Instagram stories. It is not only a literary or historical specialism, but is relevant across the arts and sciences, and can involve philosophers, psychologists, sociologists, ethnographers and anthropologists.

But life-writing is more than just these kinds of written materials: it can be about love and loss; it can be about family, friendship, marriage, children; it can show how history might be captured in an individual life, or how an individual life is representative of its times. Life-writing has to do with the emotions, it has to do with memory, and it has to do with a sense of identity. Life-writing is vital form of cultural communication.

Writers and researchers are increasingly recognising how much of writing is life-writing, including poetry and fiction. Life-writing is also an integral part of studies relating to the Holocaust, genocide, testimony and confession, and gender and apartheid. 


Cite: What is Life-Writing by The Oxford Centre for Life-Writing at https://oclw.web.ox.ac.uk/what-life-writing. Accessed on <date>