CFP: Literary Biography (ACLA, Chicago, March 16-19, 2023)

Julia Elsky's picture

Call for Papers

American Comparative Literature Association’s Annual Meeting in Chicago (March 16-19, 2023) 

Seminar Title: Literary Biography

Co-organizers: Sara Kippur (Trinity College, CT) and Julia Elsky (Loyola University Chicago,

Paper proposals can be submitted at this link from Oct. 1 to Oct. 31, 2022:

This panel seeks to explore the topic of literary biography as both theory and practice. Literary studies since the New Critics have long registered a suspicion of biographical approaches to criticism, yet our contemporary moment–in which scholars and students seem to agree that there are ethical and political stakes to recognizing an author’s lived experiences and actions–pushes us to revisit the terms and stakes of biography in scholarship and in the classroom. To what extent should biography be centered in literary studies and in the comparative literature classroom? How has the form and practice of literary biography evolved? How might we, as practitioners, responsibly take on the task of writing literary biographies? These are some of the questions that motivate our panel and that we hope to address from a range of perspectives.

Recent publications suggest the expansiveness of literary biography as a genre: it encompasses, of course, the biography of a person; the biography of a novel, such as Alice Kaplan’s Looking for The Stranger about Camus’s text or Michael Gorra’s Portrait of a Novel about Henry James’s novel; and dual biographies that feature multiple figures, such as Charlotte Gordon’s Romantic Outlaws about Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Shelley. This seminar seeks participants who will discuss the form of literary biography in a theoretical framework as well as those who will present the frameworks of the literary biographies they are in the process of writing. 

The seminar will also be a forum for discussion of how biographers write for general and academic audiences. How do approaches and forms change when looking to publish with an academic press, including those that aim at a broader readership, or a trade publisher? The wide range of approaches, as well as the interest in publishing biographies of women, are evinced by recent publications such as Ann Jefferson’s biography of Natalie Sarraute (Princeton, 2000), Caroline Weber’s Proust’s Duchess (Penguin, 2018), and Ruth Franklin’s biography of Shirley Jackson (Norton, 2016), among others. We would welcome scholars and critics who have or are currently considering writing for a more general audience. We also plan to invite an editor who straddles academic and trade audiences and who could discuss norms in their area of publishing.

Julia Elsky, PhD
Associate Professor of French 
Department of Modern Languages and Literatures
Loyola University Chicago