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Author: David Río

This chapter sets out to analyze ethnicity and identity issues in autobiographic writing on politics in Nevada, resorting to a comparative approach between three Basque American authors (all of them are members of one of the most prominent Nevada families: the Laxalts) and a Latina writer (Emma Sepúlveda, born in Argentina and raised in Chile, and the author of From Border Crossings to Campaign Trail: Chronicle of a Latina in Politics, 1998). It is not only an inter-ethnic study of self-writing on politics in Nevada, but also an intra-ethnic and intra-familial approach because Paul Laxalt's political career as senator and governor of Nevada is treated from three different perspectives in his autobiography, Nevada's Paul Laxalt: A Memoir (2000), and in two semiautobiographical novels, Monique (Laxalt) Urza'sThe Deep Blue Memory (1993) and Robert Laxalt's The Governor's Mansion (1994). These texts speak in different generational and gendered voices, offering multilayered and sometimes contradictory portraits of their authors' contact with politics. Particular attention will be paid to the way in which Sepulveda and the Laxalts address issues such as self-representation, identity formation, the tensions between "descent relations" (represented by the immigrant heritage and the family bonds) and "consent relations" (illustrated by the authors' immersion into the American way of life and, specifically, into American politics), and the conflict between public and private spaces, as exemplified by the impact of politics on their private lives.

In: Selves in Dialogue
In: Selves in Dialogue
In: Selves in Dialogue

This chapter argues that comparative analyses of autobiographical works by ethnic writers typically fail to consider the extent to which minority autobiographies emphasize issues of authorship and artistry. Examination of the autobiographical writing of two early-twentieth-century writers—the Native American writer ZitkalaŠa and the Chinese American writer Sui Sin Far—suggests that both writers sought to present themselves in their autobiographical texts as legitimate American authors, and not only as complex ethnic subjects. Although their autobiographic essays do not conform to typical narratives of the acquisition of literacy, both writers emphasize early experiences of storytelling and childhood encounters with art in order to construct unique yet fully intelligible identities as ethnic American authors. Their shared preoccupation with issues of artistry thus points to a promising area for further investigation into inter-ethnic American life writing.

In: Selves in Dialogue
Author: Jeffrey Gray

This chapter seeks to examine those moments in contemporary critical texts in which critics announce their subject positions in autobiographical terms, often in prefaces. The problem the author addresses in this essay is not so much the emphasis on the personal as the claims made (or implied) in its name. The autobiographical turn raises the question whether we have now retired the deconstruction of subjectivity that occupied the last three decades or whether it has been set aside in the interests of agency and the acknowledgement of subject position. The chapter focuses on a sampling of critical works by authors male and female and of various ethnicities, paying special attention to the rather anxious subject positions declared by white critics, particularly those writing about ethnic literature. The American hunger for roots, or what Jacques Derrida called “the disorder of identity” is well-known, but it may be exacerbated in our time among white academics, whose evident discomfort with privilege leads them to disavow any empowered discursive site by articulating membership in alien or “multiple” discursive communities.

In: Selves in Dialogue
In: Selves in Dialogue

This essay deals with the multilayered trope of food in two autobiographical works published in 2005, Diana Abu-Jaber’s The Language of Baklava and Leslie Li’s Daughter of Heaven. Both works are considered “food memoirs” and, as the very term indicates, culinary rituals, commensality, recipes, and other food-related matters constitute the backbone of the narration. Abu-Jaber and Li use food as a vehicle for the exploration of memories of past events, as well as for the analysis of issues such as ethnicity, racism, identity and community. The fact that both works feature first and second generation members of ethnic groups in the United States—Arab Americans in the case of Abu-Jaber, and Chinese Americans in the case of Li— invites the “trans-ethnic” study of the two memoirs, which, surprisingly enough, present many stylistic and thematic similarities.

In: Selves in Dialogue

The doublings of memory and writing are shared themes and motifs in the autobiographical writings of two New Yorkers, Samuel R. Delany and Paul Auster, two writers whose writings are otherwise very distinct in style, reach and critical reception. The marginalized writer of consciously marginal “paraliterature,” as Delany calls his science-fiction and other genre experiments, contrasts with the increasingly acclaimed critical and popular favourite, Paul Auster. These distinctions, however, are precisely what allow their shared concerns in their memoirs to stand out, revealing two highly self-conscious writers who employ the autobiographical in ways that question the very discursive and genre conventions that enable the generic stereotyping their writings contest, implicitly or explicitly. In a context we could label as postmodern, their autobiographical writings constitute discursive doublings that explore the formal and thematic constraints of this particular textual mode, one that resists determinate generic classification. They both exploit the the dual temporal and thematic articulation that autobiography relies on—the oscillation between past and present, life and writing—in order to respect more fully the very notion of the autobiographical as experience in writing and writing as experience. The writing of memory and the memory which is writing here double each other in ways that are not always symmetrical and that foreground the skewed relationship that exists between the two. Seeking to authorize their own writing, to father their own discourse, they both resolve that impossibility, in a mode that can never catch up to its presumed objective, the coincidence of life and writing, by recognizing the role of the reader as metaphorically, the ‘son’ who fathers the ‘father’. The experience of autobiography ultimately exists for the reader, an experience of reading that calls upon its own memory, thus doubling in turn the double narrative which is autobiography itself.

In: Selves in Dialogue

Unlike traditional Western autobiographies, which tend to circle around questions of individuality and the developing subject, Native American selfnarrations have dwelt on the construction of a “communal or relational self” (Wong 2005: 127), that is, indigenous memoirs clearly illustrate how individual and communal histories are necessarily interrelated. Moreover, many Native American authors have also manifested a certain appeal for ethnic “af-filiation,” as a need for recognition and validation both by mainstream society and by their communities. In this respect, self-writing becomes an imaginative search for belonging and a rhetorical exercise to establish an authoritative voice that uses the text to claim new spaces for ethnic communities, and for the writers themselves in the public sphere of the nation. This chapter explores two contemporary experimental self-histories written by mixed-blood writers in the United States. First, it focuses on Kiowa novelist N. Scott Momaday’s foundational text The Way to Rainy Mountain as one such “multivocal” self-narration that constitutes both a history of the Kiowa people, a memoir of lyrically intertwined familiar and communal stories, as well as a subtle plea for personal and cultural recognition. Second, the chapter engages the radical self-figurative journey of Chicana intellectual Gloria Anzaldúa, who in her autobiographical, historical and poetic memoir Borderlands/La Frontera privileges a mystified Aztec heritage in the construction of her own narrative and political persona. Hers is also a communal and relational self that seeks recognition through ancestral female indigenous voices that she strategically unearths in order to legitimize her New Mestiza/Chicana consciousness.

In: Selves in Dialogue
In: Selves in Dialogue