RCA Writing Programme Explores Writings of the Self at “AUTO–” Conference

Self-portrait talking to Vince, Providence, Rhode Island, 1975–1978, Francesca Woodman
Self-portrait talking to Vince, Providence, Rhode Island, 1975–1978, Francesca Woodman, American.
© Collection Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago
The RCA Writing Programme has organised a two-day conference on 23–24 May, exploring ‘autofiction’ – a loose and often variable term that refers to ‘fictionalised autobiography’ – or an approach to writing from a personal perspective, where the writer draws on their lived experience. While the writing that ‘autofiction’ describes is gaining increasing popularity and currency, the term itself is sometimes used indiscriminately, and is definitely in need of some unpacking – something the conference aims to achieve. With a keynote from American poet and essayist Anne Boyer and papers, readings, film screenings and round table discussions from writers and practitioners, the conference will generate critical and creative discourse around the practices, theories, contradictions, arguments and histories of the ‘auto’.

The term ‘autofiction’ is not new. The 1977 novel Fils by Serge Doubrovsky is often cited as the origin of the term, but it has also been traced to Joyce and Proust, to the Confessions of Rousseau, and Augustine before him, or even further, to Hesiod’s Works and Days. Non-Western cultures have similar tropes, the Japanese I-Novel, for instance. However, the last decade has seen somewhat of an explosion in the genre – one that could perhaps be attributed to the impacts of social media, new modes of reflexivity, or be seen to resonate within the ‘post-truth’ media environment.

The conference, which includes contributions from Heike Geissler, Claire-Louise Bennett, Juliet Jacques, and Brian Dillon, amongst many others, will wrangle with and refine usages of the term ‘autofiction’. It will also consider the ways in which these conversations and practices relate and spill into other genres and disciplines. Like its many associated terms – ‘life writing’, ‘creative non-fiction’, ‘autotheory’, ‘faction’, ‘auto-ethnography’, ‘new narrative’ – considering practices of autofiction has wider reverberations across the arts and humanities, relating to notions of subjectivity, authenticity, sincerity and the creative process.

The writers, curators, researchers and scholars speaking at the conference will consider the ‘auto’ through a variety of stand points – from intersections with debates around gender, identity and race, to reflections on the writing of John Berger and Christine Brooke Rose, as well as topics such as illness, art criticism, and performance art.

Dr Emily LaBarge, who has coordinated the conference, explained what thinking about the ‘auto’ has to offer: ‘Practices of the “auto” can be seen as redistributions of power and subjectivity – they are often about taking apart or reconstituting narratives of selfhood and authorship, changing what is allowed to be told and by whom, and thinking through the related political implications. Organising the conference was a great opportunity to bring together a group of interesting people – doctoral researchers, scholars, writers, artists – to think about these emerging and pressing concerns for those working across different disciplinary fields.’

The ‘AUTO–’ conference follows on from 'Where’s SARDINES?': Art and Poetry in Conversation – a Writing Programme Symposium, that took place in November last year. These events aim to address issues and interests that are current to the field of contemporary writing and emerge from the discussions and interests of MA Writing students. Both events demonstrate how the Writing Programme, School of Arts & Humanities and the RCA more broadly provides a usefully idiosyncratic environment for practice-led research grounded in academic rigour.


See full details of the conference and how to book your place here.

Find out more about the Writing Programme at the RCA and how to apply.