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Abstract

This essay offers an overview of the development of life writing criticism from its status as an outsider of English studies to a flourishing interdisciplinary field. I argue that one of the characteristics of this history has been a schism between critics of life writing and life writers themselves, a schism that echoes the well known ambivalence literary critics and writers generally feel towards each other even as, ironically, there has always been crossover between groups. However, over the last two decades, critics and life writers have become far more curious about each other and indeed increasingly borrow each others’ tools. Contemporary critical practice has become self-reflective, and a sizeable minority of academics have even penned their own memoirs. Conversely, life writing practitioners are more engaged with the theoretical debates that surround creative practice. I situate this picture of mutual influence in relationship to institutional as well as intellectual and creative developments in the UK, though with some references to the US. And I consider the dark side to the discovery of the academic ‘I’ and the creative’s inner intellectual. However, I conclude that we are in an exciting moment for life writing, a mutable genre that can be at once critical practice, practice-based research and creative experiment.