In Memoriam: Georgia Johnston, 1959 – 2017
In her 2007 book, The Formation of 20th-Century Queer Autobiography: Reading Vita Sackville-West, Virginia Woolf, Hilda Doolittle, and Gertrude Stein, Georgia Johnston undermines persistent gender binaries to explore a Modernist lesbian aesthetic of life writing, a scholarly act that served and still serves to open doors to innovative conversations on gender and sexuality. Georgia reads “autobiography as a critical tool—as a meta-tropic genre, as a genre that can critique assumptions about the formation of sexual memory, sexual consciousness, sexual roles, sexual subjectivity.” As we in the autobiography studies community know, the study of narrated lives actively changes lives and our perceptions of the lives of others. And, this transformative possibility is the real meat of Georgia’s scholarship. She describes her book as one “that reads early-twentieth-century lesbian autobiographies as they contest the generic conventions in order to rewrite early twentieth-century assumptions about human sexuality and sexual identity.” This work, however, demonstrates in a larger scope that autobiographical narratives encourage us to contest single stories that seek to press individuals into reductive singularities. Her scholarship stresses the need to read for multiplicity in lives and in life narratives. 2017 needs more Georgia Johnstons, that is, more scholars whose ideas transition from the pages of their books into the realities of our lived experiences. We’ll miss Georgia, but, hopefully, we’ll find ways to follow her lead.
Ricia Anne Chansky
For more information about Georgia, see the following tribute.