Mirror Talk

Genres of Crisis in Contemporary Autobiography

By Susanna Egan

Mirror Talk

296 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 7 illus., notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-0-8078-4782-4
    Published: September 1999

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Traditional autobiography tends to originate in some form of crisis and to develop some form of resolution. In contrast, much contemporary autobiography deals with unresolved crises and cannot even assume authoritative, first-person narration. Susanna Egan finds such autobiographies dialogic in form, involving the reader in generic experimentation in their pursuit of shifting, uncertain meanings. After tracing the literary experimentation of contemporary genres to the inventiveness of modernism, she explores the generic contributions of drama, film, quilting, comics, and blended literary forms to changing genres of autobiography. Egan identifies lived crises--such as diaspora, genocide, and terminal illness--as the forces behind generic experimentation, suggesting dynamic intersections between trauma and cultural expression.

Mirror Talk examines work by a wide range of autobiographers, including Primo Levi, Maxine Hong Kingston, Audre Lorde, Michael Ondaatje, Tom Joslin, Clark Blaise and Bharati Mukherjee, Sandra Butler and Barbara Rosenblum, Breyten Breytenbach, Linda Griffiths and Maria Campbell, Ernest Hemingway, Shirley Geok-lin Lim, Mary Meigs, Dennis Potter, and Trinh T. Minh-ha.

About the Author

Susanna Egan is associate professor of English at the University of British Columbia and author of Patterns of Experience in Autobiography.
For more information about Susanna Egan, visit the Author Page.


"[Egan’s] eclecticism is courageous, her specific analyses and elucidations vigorous and vivid, and her theoretical discussions clear."--London Review of Books

"In this timely and important book, Susanna Egan maps the extensive territories--genres, cultures, hybrid forms--that are going to be the country of autobiography in the time to come."--Paul John Eakin, Indiana University