The 1st Biennial Conference of the Americas Chapter of IABA
I just attended the 1st Biennial Conference of the Americas Chapter of the International Association for Biography and Autobiography (IABA), held at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. Last year, I presented on science graphic biographies at the IABA-World conference held at the Banff Centre. That paper has since been expanded and is about to appear in the journal Biography under the title "Graphic Biography and the Half Lives of Robert Oppenheimer." The Banff IABA-World conference was a major stimulus for this project and brought the life writing elements of the project into closer conversation with the comics studies focus.
I cannot say enough good things about IABA as an organization. Not only does it include experts in graphic life writing and auto/biography theory (Sidonie Smith; Julia Watson; Leigh Gilmore; Craig Howes; Julie Rak; Eleanor Ty; Linda Warley, and many others) but it is at once a most collegial and rigorous scholarly community. The IABA-Americas conference was part of "The Year of Lifewriting" organized by Sidonie Smith and her colleagues at the University of Michigan Institute for the Humanities.
My paper in Ann Arbor was titled "The Life in Revue: The Spectacular Archive of Vaudeville Visual Biographies." In this paper, I explore the spectacular display of variety theatre life narratives in Lauren Redniss's Century Girl: 100 Years in the Life of Doris Eaton Travis, Last Living Star of the Ziegfeld Follies and Ann-Marie Fleming's The Magical Life of Long Tack Sam. As I was writing the paper, I was struck by the postmodern play with surfaces in both texts, the ways that they admit the limits of knowability about their subjects and the ways that they pastiche the ephemeral archives of vaudeville and the musical revue respectively. I propose reading these works as "biographies of sociability," and suggest that the lives themselves are represented as sociable and the texts are documents of aesthetic sociability. This paper will be expanded to consider other graphic biographies of stage performers.
I heard so many wonderful, provocative, exploratory, and innovative papers at this conference that I cannot possibly summarize them all here. The conference program illustrates the broad range of interests, from prose life writing to digital selves, and the diversity of cultures, languages, disciplines, and approaches represented at this conference.