The Department of English has a distinguished tradition of scholarship in Life-Writing; especially the production of literary biographies by Leonee Ormond, David Nokes, and Max Saunders; and critical work on literary autobiography, biography, and letters.
Clare Brant’s study Eighteenth-Century Letters and British Culture won the ESSE Book Award for 2008. Other recent works range from Richard Kirkland’s acclaimed study of singer, poet, writer and IRA activist, Cathal O'Byrne, and Clare Pettitt’s Dr Livingstone, I Presume, an analysis of celebrity, cultural memory and the manipulation of public opinion, to David Nokes’s biography of Dr Johnson, and Max Saunders’ study of ‘autobiografiction’.
Lara Feigel is co-editing Stephen Spender’s journals, and researching the responses of British and German writers to WW2 bombing. Brian Hurwitz and Neil Vickers are working together on illness narratives.
Recent events in the broad field of life writing also include two linked conferences about creativity at the end of artistic lives, 'Rethinking Late Style: Art/Music/Literature', organised by Gordon McMullan, the first of which took place at King's in November 2007; the second at the Australian National University in 2008.
Centre for Life Writing Research
The School of Humanities' Centre for Life-writing Research (2007), co-directed by Clare Brant and Max Saunders, is based in the Department, and is a hub for College activities in this area. Work within the Centre encompasses critical biographies and biographical networks; studies of life-writing forms; and analyses of life-writing practices. It also provides a focus for seminars, conferences and public lectures.
Speakers at the ‘Life Writing at King’s’ series included Andrew Motion, Katherine Hughes, Hermione Lee, and Edmund White. The series ‘Medical Lives’ included Dannie Abse, Vesna Goldsworthy, and Andrew Lycett. ‘Enlightenment Lives’ featured David Constantine, Linda Colley, and Nicholas Rogers.
The Centre has strong links with the International Association for Biography and Autobiography, and its IABA Europe section; in 2009 it organised a major international conference on ‘The Work of Life-Writing’, some of the papers from which will be published in special issues of two journals: a/b Auto/Biography Studies; and Life-Writing. It also hosted a conference on queer autobiography.
Research Student Supervision
There is also a strong postgraduate research culture in this area. The Centre supports two AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Awards. One funds research at the Imperial War Museum for the study of letters written about World War One for the BBC's 'Great War' Series (2008-10), and the other, the major archive of John Berger’s papers at the British Library (2010-13).
Other postgraduates in the field of Life Writing are researching critical biographies of writers,20th century literary autobiography, autobiography and AIDS, and late 18th century constructions of biographical writing. Centre for Life-writing Research welcomes enquiries from research students in any area of life writing.