Virginia Woolf Miscellany CFP

Biofiction, literature that names its protagonist after an actual historical figure, has become a dominant literary form in recent years.  Margaret Atwood, J.M. Coetzee, Joyce Carol Oates, Colum McCann, Colm Tóibín, Peter Carey, and Hilary Mantel are just a few luminaries who have authored spectacular biographical novels and won major awards, including the Pulitzer Prize, the Man Booker Prize, the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Pen/Faulkner Award, and the National Book Award.  With regard to the rise and legitimization of biofiction, Michael Cunningham’s The Hours is a crucial text not just because it won the Pulitzer Prize in fiction but also because it features Virginia Woolf as a character. Since the publication of The Hours in 1998, there have been numerous biographical novels about Woolf, including Gillian Freeman’s But Nobody Lives in Bloomsbury(2006), Susan Sellers’ Vanessa and Virginia (2009), Priya Parmar’s Vanessa and her Sister (2015), Norah Vincent’s Adeline(2015), and Maggie Gee’s Virginia Woolf in Manhattan (2015).  While there have been multiple novels about other historical figures, such as Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Emily Dickinson, Nat Turner, Eliza Lynch, Friedrich Nietzsche, Henry James, and Katherine Mansfield, it appears that Woolf has inspired the most and some of the best biographical novels.

This is ironic, because while Woolf is known for bending and blending genres, she was never able to imagine her way to the biographical novel—she certainly came close in Orlando, which is not a biographical novel because she does not name the protagonist Vita, and Flush, which fits the definition of a classical historical novel rather than a biographical novel.  However, Woolf’s theoretical approach to imaginative biography (voiced especially in her essays “The New Biography” [1927] and “The Art of Biography” [1939], prompted by Harold Nicolson’s and Lytton Strachey’s contemporary biographical productions), encouraged writers to push the Victorian limits of the genre and explore new (“odd”) possibilities. Her discussions on the new directions and liberties that biography took at the beginning of the twentieth century has certainly paved the way for the current postmodernist literary genre of biofiction.

The Virginia Woolf Miscellany seeks submissions about Woolf, Bloomsbury, and biofiction.  Questions to consider include: To what degree has Woolf’s work inspired aesthetic developments that led to the rise and legitimization of contemporary biofiction? What in Woolf’s life makes her particularly suited as a protagonist of biofiction? How does contemporary biofiction give us new access to Woolf, her family and friends, and Bloomsbury?  How do contemporary biofictions challenge and reimagine traditional ways of thinking about Woolf’s life and works?  How is Woolf’s work and life used in biofiction to advance ways of thinking that even Woolf could not have imagined? Is it ethical to use Woolf’s life in a contemporary novel?  Can an author simply make things up about an actual historical figure such as Woolf?  And is it ethical for an author to alter facts about a person’s life in order to communicate what is considered a more important “truth”?  These are just a few questions the rise of biofictions about Woolf raise.  Please feel free to generate and answer your own set of questions. 

Submissions should be no longer than 2500 words.  Send inquiries and submissions to Michael Lackey (lacke010@morris.umn.edu) or Todd Avery (Todd_Avery@uml.edu) by July 15, 2017.  Publication is slated for theSpring/Summer 2018 issue.

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