Fishing for difference: A case study of singularity and sensibility in critical literary life writing

Claire Elizabeth Robson, Dennis Sumara


This paper draws upon a two-year study that examined how critical literary life writing helped a group of lesbian seniors negotiate identity. As we consider the notions of difference and singularity, building upon the earlier work of one of the authors, we analyze the work of one participant - an ex nun whose life’s work has made her remarkable in the eyes of the world. However, as oral historians (Portelli, 1981; Thompson, 2009) have found, epic stories of celebration and achievement can serve to limit the scope of life narratives. This can hold especially true for marginalized individuals (Boyd, 2008). We suggest that in this instance, structured practices of close writing opened up our participant’s narrative to lyric possibility, rather than the “grammars of consequence” (Zwicky, 2006).


writing; identity; critical; memoir; narrative

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