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MLA Convention Blog

Narrating Lives

Photo of Sidonie Smith Greetings from Los Angeles. The buzz is on! At noon today, the first sessions on the Presidential Theme, Narrating Lives, inaugurate what promises to be three intense days of extended conversation about the contemporary memoir boom; the many historical genres of life writing; and the diverse ways people around the globe write, visualize, and perform personal stories.

Please check out the Presidential Forum and its linked sessions (207, 336, 505) to hear a kaleidioscopic array of approaches to lives, afterlives, and archives of life writing.

But here’s what I’m particularly excited about today. At this convention the MLA has embarked on the ambitious project of collecting stories about our scholarly and teaching lives and our personal experience as readers. We’re calling this the Narrating Lives YouTube Project. We want your stories to help us convey to others the many meanings of our work as it’s shaped through books, through research in scholarly archives, and through our teaching.

So I’m inviting you to record a story—a one-minute memoir—at the MLA booth in the exhibit hall. Stop by between 10:00 a.m. and 12:00 noon today or tomorrow. We’re going to post your stories on YouTube channel MLA 2011.

What kinds of stories might you tell? We’ll have a list of questions to help you focus your brief memoir. But here are some to think about: What book changed your life? How have books changed our students’ lives? What kind of reader were you as a child? Who was your most important mentor, and what did he or she teach you? What was a memorable experience in the classroom, either as a teacher or as a student? Where has your love of literature and language taken you? Why does a life in the humanities matter?

As we gather in sessions and at dinners and over drinks, we’ll be talking about the many crises confronting our departments, the humanities, and higher education. But we’ll also be reconnecting through storytelling. I’d like us to have an archive of stories we tell about our professional lives at this time of crisis, transformation, and emerging possibilities in our teaching and scholarly lives.

I’m looking forward to hearing your one-minute story.

Sidonie Smith
MLA president
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© 2015 Modern Language Association. Last updated 02/12/2014.