Women’s Life Writing

As indicated in a previous section, life writing is a dynamic site of inscribing human subjectivity, especially of women and other marginalised sections in a society. With the advent of postcolonial era, one can notice a spurt in women’s life narratives particularly autobiographies, cutting across nations. Narratives of women by and for women have been well – received and the increase in sales of such texts prove this beyond doubt.

Among the life stories of women, perhaps autobiography is the most popular form. Besides, there are other forms like biographies, memoirs, diaries, interviews, testimonies etc. through which women share their experiences. It is important to note that the dominant stream of women’s life writings are by women who are heterosexuals. However, there are narratives which revile the exploitative nature of patriarchy, particularly by the lesbians. Women belonging to the deprived sections have started using life narratives as powerful tools to disparage the hegemonic culture which is essentially male-centred in disposition; in fact, their voices have begun to be sonorous when they started inscribing their experiences in various forms of life writing. Thus, autobiography became more favoured among women, and the form helped them to refashion their self and identity with a vestige of protest. In fact, gender and sexuality are the two persistent issues in such life – texts. For example, in Dupe: the Autobiography of an Extra Actress (2010), Surayya Banu narrates the story of those actors who failed in life, and the work is set against the background of South Indian film industry; the text also acquires the dimension of a biography of South Indian film industry. Banu, the subject has no name, no identity and she is only the body of Shakeela, a popular soft -porn heroine. Sometimes, an autobiography widens it range to become an autoethnography, the story of a particular ethnic community. A recent example is Selina Prakanam’s Chengara Samaravum Ente Jeevithavum, which relates not only the story of Selina, a dalit activist but also the story of victimisation of her own community. The narrator “I” is problematic in the sense that we can not only identify the utterance of the auto/biographer but also the combined articulation of the dalit community.

Testimonial narrative is another potent mode through which a woman inscribes her subjectivity. But, as Linda Anderson argues in her work, Autobiography, “I” in the testimonies are often “split selves” (126). However, they are not often well-knit narratives because of the faultlines in language due to repetitions, loss of memory and gaps in narration. According to Shoshana Felman, “testimony is called for in a situation where the truth is not clear, where here is already a ‘crisis of truth’. . .”(6). C. K. Janu, the adivasi leader’s narrative Mother Forest is a good example of testimony.

A genre of life writing which is very often associated with ‘femininity’ and women is the diary, one of the most intimate methods of self-expression. In fact, it “is both a retreat and a source of energy in each person’s dialectical relationship with the world, which he uses to construct and sustain himself as an individual. . . (Lejuene 164).1 There are also trauma narratives by women who are victims of so many atrocities like holocaust, communal violence and rape. In the cyberspace, there are so many intimate confessions of women especially blogs by rape victims. Thus, cyber world has widened the possibilities of women to write their lives and share their experiences and such writings have become therapeutic discourses. Sri Padre’s Vishamazhayil Polliya Manasu (2010), is a tale of the traumatic experiences of endosulphan victims of Kasaragod, Kerala.2

The section “Women’s Life Writing” introduces five research articles. In the first piece “Life Writings and Communities of Memory: A Reading of the Narrative Self of Kuriyedathu Tatri,” Meera historicises the self of Tatri in the cultural milieu of Kerala and goes on to analyse it as a document of social memory and the politics involved in it. In “Trauma and Survival: Reading Karukku as Testimonio,” Runa Chakrabarty drives home a strong argument that we may approach Barna’s text as a testimonio rather than an autobiography. She also aims to show how a generic recasting of Karukku can sharpen the narrative’s political edge. In her research paper, Teena Rachel analyses the autobiography of a dancer, Martha Graham’s Blood Mary and introduces a new concept, autochoreography, the life – document of a performer. In fact, her main concern is the body is used for self-articulation. Anu Leksmi in “Documenting Life: Frames of the Self in Kamala Das’ Ente Katha and My Story,” unravels the politics of narration fit the two versions of Kamala Das’ popular autobiography. And, Sulfia Santhosh takes a few life narratives by Binodini Dasi and Durga Khote to elucidate how they narrate the contours of femininity in modern Indian public sphere.


1 Anne Frank’s diary: The Diary of a Young Girl or The Diary of Anne Frank was secretly kept by Anne Frank while she was hiding for two years with her family during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands. They were caught in 1944 and Anne died of typhus in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. In fact, the diary was retrieved by Miep Gies who gave it to Anne’s father, Otto Frank, the only known survivor of the family. The diary has been published in more than 60 different languages. In the book, Anne shares her traumatic experiences to her imaginary friend, Kitty.

2 Sri Padre, popularly known as the rain water man wrote a traumatic narrative, Vishamazhayil Pollunna Jivitham published by DC Books in 2009.


Anderson, Linda. Autobiography. London: Routledge, 2001. Print.

Felman, Shoshana and Dori Laub. Testimony: Crisis of Witnessing in Literature, Psychoanalysis, and History. New York: Routledge, 1992. Print.

Lejuene, Philip. On Diary. Ed. Jeremy Popkin et al. New York: U of Hawai P, 2009. Print.

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