This is the first collection of essays to focus exclusively on the contribution of American women to the writing of autobiography. The Authors trace traditions of women's life-writing through three and a half centuries, from the narratives of Puritan women to contemporary multicultural literature. Contributors to the volume are major scholars in their fields: Sidonie Smith, Catharine Stimpson, Ann Gordon, Mary Mason, Nancy Walker, Kathleen Sands, Arlyn Diamond, and others whose essays all appear here for the first time.
Reflecting recent theoretical approaches to autobiography, these essays draw upon work in literature, history, American studies, and religion, and treat both canonical writers of autobiography--Harriet Jacobs, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Gertrude Stein, Mary McCarthy, Maxine Hong Kingston, and others--as well as lesser known and unknown writers. Through these lives we glimpse the wider worlds of which they were a part, including the abolition and suffrage movements, western frontier life, and the struggle for civil rights in the twentieth century.
In her introduction, Margo Culley traces the dominant tradition of American women's autobiography back to the Puritan practice of "reading the self." Writing as women and expecting to be judged as such, authors from all periods exhibit ambivalence about the first person singular, yet give themselves "permission" to write in the hope that their stories will be useful to others, particularly other women. Such purpose allows these writers to indulge all the pleasures of autobiography--pleasures of language and imagination, of narrative, of reminiscence, and even egotism.
Together these essays explore gender and genre as culturally inscribed, the construction of self within language systems, the nature of female subjectivity, and the shaping forces of memory and narrative as writers engage in the making of meaning and the making of history. Grounded in the multicultural reality that is America, these essays celebrate women's lives, women's autobiographical writing (including criticism), and the fea(s)ts of reading women's writing.