CFP for a Special Session about Hispanic Biofictions at the NYC MLA 2018

Asked to write something for the 30th anniversary issue of Auto/Biography Studies on the theme, “What Next?” Nigel Hamilton observed that one of the most “promising and exciting areas of biographical study” will be “in the no-man’s land between biographical fact and fiction – a land that is continually increasing in mass.”  Similarly, Joanny Moulin has argued that we are “witnessing the rise of ‘fictional biographies’ or ‘biographical fictions,’ which Alaine Buisine conceptualized by coining the word ‘biofiction’ in 1991.” Yet, despite the remarkable growth and legitimization of the biographical novel over the past 25 years, scant attention has been given to Hispanic biofictions. This is so, despite prominent biofictional works by Mario Vargas Llosa, Julia Alvarez, Isabel Allende, Rosa Montero, and Javier Cercas, to name a few. Of interest, too, are works such as those by North American writer Barbara Mujica, whose fictions focus on Hispanic figures such as Saint Teresa, Frida, and Diego Velazquez. We seek papers that both explore the reasons driving literary innovation through biofiction, and that address the gap in the study of Hispanic manifestations of this form.

Why are writers increasingly using biography to play in the speculative space between the ostensibly real and the fictional? How do contemporary biofictions give us new access to history? While biography traditionally asserts historical objectivity and the continuous coherence of a life, contemporary thought frequently challenges the certainty of these assumptions. The immediate, interactive, and multiple formats by which we represent versions of identity, in which we store or discard narratives or images of a life – and through which we “follow” these representations of others — has changed dramatically in the last few decades. Just as our digital identities can be deleted, retouched, distorted, reposted, or retransmitted by whomever, whenever, the authority and control we assert over our narrative lives is simultaneously more open and more uncertain. Like our lives, biofictions suggest our biographical narratives and our readings of these histories are also in transit.

Many of the contemporary writers of popular Hispanic biofictions came of age or were young adults during transitions from dictatorship. If these writers perceive themselves as “freed up” from the authoritarian models and mores of narrowly defined gender and social roles, of monolithic Catholicism, they also leapt into a climate of vast technological and cultural change.  Rather than contesting models of authority and monolithic truth centered on dictatorship, power and influence are diffused and played out through global networks of media images and commodity culture that upend certainty over who or what to believe. In Javier Cercas’ Soldiers of Salamis (2001), for example, the ‘true’ story of what happened is never fully resolved. The novel considers not only uncertain access to these answers, but also the unstable value of what we remember, what we choose to memorialize or, alternatively, to bury away.

Biofiction is a rapidly growing field of scholarly inquiry, so there is a lot of work to be done, especially in the relatively unexamined area of Hispanic biofiction.

Please send inquiries or 250-word proposals by March 1 to Jenny Rademacher (vrademacher@babson.edu) and Lizz Cruz Petersen (epeters1@my.fau.edu). Also, please feel free to share pertinent works of Hispanic biofiction that you feel should be included as part of this growing area of scholarship.

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