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Tropical Shapes

International Workshop


Emerging research in life writing studies

13 and 14 May 2021

Tropical Shapes

“If life writing was a “rumpled bed” in 2000, it is now a messy multi-sensorium, teeming with the potential—and the pitfalls—of vibrant self-presentations across media, geographies, and worlds.”

(Smith/Watson, Life Writing in the Long Run (2017), xlvii)

We invite early career scholars currently working on projects in the field of Life Writing Studies to meet and contribute to dialogues about the significance, potential and pitfalls of studying diverse forms of self-representation today.

In the past decades, Life Writing as a concept has proven a fruitful expansion opening up new perspectives to identify acts, forms, and media of self-thematization that allows to analyze the well-known forms such as autobiography, letters, and diaries, but has also included emerging new arenas of self-presentation and autobiographical discourse, also on the non-textual level.

Following Sidonie Smith and Julia Watson’s approach, Life Writing Studies challenge the ideas of a unified story and a coherent self. Rather, they acknowledge the complexities of autobiographical acts and subjectivities and their performative nature, in which “selves” are constantly produced and remade through memory, experience, identity, spatial location, embodiment and agency.

Thus, the study of Life Writing can be as complex as its materials, which is why in this workshop we want to discuss a number of ongoing international research projects in the field

2.45 - 3 pm
CET (!)
3pm - 4.15pm
4.15 -4.30pm
4.30 -5.30pm
5:30 - 6:30pm
6:30 - 6:45pm
6:45 - 7:45pm
7:45 - 8:30pm



Verena Baier and Tamara Heger


Narrated Lives after 2020: Emerging Life Stories in the United States

Prof. Dr. Sidonie Smith and

Prof. Dr. Julia Watson

(Ann Arbor,Michigan/



PANEL I: Soldiers' Memories

Bettina Huber (Passau)

Remembering the War: Caught between Personal Trauma and Political Agenda


Tamara Heger (Regensburg)

“To make sure all are informed correctly”: US Soldiers’ Life Narratives of the Flossenbuerg Concentration Camp Liberation between Narrative Construction and Truthfulness

Chair: Jessica Sanfilippo-Schulz (Leeds)

PANEL II:  Remembering Activism

Duygu Erbil (Utrecht)

The “Ideological I” of Remembering Activism (Turkey)

Verena Baier (Regensburg)

“But in Nicaragua There’s a Lot of Hope": US Peace Activists' Life Writings of 1980s Revolutionary Nicaragua

Chair: Atalie Gerhard (Saarbrücken)


PANEL III: Life Writing and Intermediality

Elisabeth Krieber (Salzburg)

From Panel to Stage and Screen: Adapting Autographic Subjectivities



Megan Perram (Edmonton, Alberta)

Click Me: Literary Hypertext as Illness Narrative for Womxn with Hyperandrogenism

Chair: Isabel Marqués López (Madrid)


--> join our break-out sessions :)

1:30 - 3pm
CET (!)
3pm - 3:15pm
3:15 - 4:15pm
4:15 - 5:15pm
5:15 - 5:30pm
5:30 - 6:30pm
6:30 - 7:30pm
7:30 - 8pm


Writing Life, Life Writing: Disability and Relational Autonomy in Jason Kingsley’s and Mitchell Levitz’s Count Us In



Prof. Dr. Mita Banerjee



PANEL IV: Negotiating Nature and Humanity

Ina Batzke (Augsburg)

Nature Writing for the Anthropocene

Jens Temmen (Düsseldorf)

“My Battery is Low and It’s Getting Dark”: Posthuman Life Writing on Mars and the NASA Rover Missions

Chair: Tamara Heger (Regensburg)

PANEL V: Writing Diaspora

Ximena Goecke (Santiago de Chile)

Reflections on Chilean-Jewish life writing boom in contemporary Chile


Isabel Kalous (Gießen)

Traveling in Search of Self and Home: Emily Raboteau’s Autobiographical Travel Narrative Searching for Zion. The Quest for Home in the African Diaspora (2013)

Chair: Verena Baier (Regensburg)


PANEL VI: Writing Queer Lives

Karolína Zlámalová (Brno)

Constrains of the Language: The Identity Narrative in the Nonbinary Memoir


Lea Espinoza Garrido (Wuppertal)

Disruptions of/in Queer Life Writing - Fragmentation,Materiality, and the Body in Laura Jane Grace’s Tranny

Chair: Sigrid Schönfelder (Passau)

PANEL VII: Negotiating Embodiments and Subjectivities

Eamonn Connor (Glasgow)

All Aboard: Life Writing During the “Golden Age” of Cruise Ships

Hannes Koberg (Bochum)

Body/Nation: Embodying Hybrid Selves in Transnational Life Writing

Chair: Volker Depkat (Regensburg)


Verena Baier and Tamara Heger

julia watson

sidonie smith

mita banerjee

Mita Banerjee is Professor of American Studies at the Obama Institute of Transnational American Studies at the University of Mainz, Germany. In her research, she has explored issues of race, citizenship, and naturalization (Color Me White: Naturalism/Naturalization in American Literature, 2013), and the role of heath justice for the promise of American democracy (Medical Humanities in American Studies, 2018). She is co-speaker of the research training group “Life Sciences, Life Writing: Boundary Experiences of Human Life between Biomedical Explanation and Lived Experience,” which is funded by the German Research Foundation.

She will give a keynote talk on "Writing Life, Life Writing: Disability and Relational Autonomy in Jason Kingsley’s and Mitchell Levitz’s Count Us In"

Keynote Speakes
Banerjee, Mita
Smith, Sidonie
Watson, Julia

Sidonie Smith regularly bakes her own bread, ardently weeds her extensive gardens, and, in season, hangs her laundry to dry on the rear-deck of her home overlooking a creek. Julia Watson saves organic garbage for composting to enrich her year-round herb garden, does aqua aerobics regularly, and strives to fulfill the wishes of her cats and grandchildren. Both scholars love to dance to Motown and its descendants. They have also published several books and essays, together and separately. Their most recent collaborative volume is Life Writing in the Long Run: A Smith & Watson Autobiography Studies Reader, Michigan Publishing Services, 2017, print, e-book, and open-access at

Their essay, “Days of Reckoning: Prospects for Life Narrative after 2020,” from which today’s talk is drawn, is forthcoming in a University of Wisconsin Press collection, The Untied States: Unraveling National Identities in the Twenty-First Century, edited by Laura J. Beard and Ricia Anne Chansky.



American Studies, University of Regensburg


Verena Baier is a doctoral candidate in American Studies at the University of Regensburg where she also works as assistant manager of the Promotionskolleg der Philosophischen Fakultäten (PUR). Furthermore, she is supported by a PhD scholarship of the Stiftung der Deutschen Wirtschaft. Previously, she studied at Augustana College, IL, the University of Seville, Spain, and the University of Regensburg where she completed her first state exam in English and Spanish Studies in 2017. Her research interests include life writing, social movements, the rise of the New Right, and transnational American Studies. During winter and spring term 2019/20 she was a visiting PhD scholar at the Institute of European Studies of UC Berkeley.


Remembering Nicaragua?: Life Writings by US American Volunteers in the Nicaragua Peace and Solidarity Movement and the Contra War, 1979-1990

My project investigates memories of US Americans participating in the Nicaragua conflicts of the 1980s when the Reagan government’s opposition of Sandinista Nicaragua and the support of the Nicaraguan counterrevolution ignited direct action in different camps of US society. Thus, I not only look at US peace and solidarity activists traveling to Nicaragua, but also at actors on the political Right supporting the Nicaraguan Contras. I investigate their autobiographical writings to find out how an imagined Nicaragua is used for processes of self-understanding, and try to trace the socio-political visions and divisions within US society of the 1980s that have become all the more relevant in the current political environment.


American Studies, University of Augsburg


Ina Batzke joined the University of Augsburg, Germany as a post-doctoral researcher and lecturer in American Studies in 2018, after she received her PhD from the University of Münster. She is author of the monograph Undocumented Migrants in the United States. Life Narratives and Self-representations (Routledge 2019), which summarizes her latest research interests in life writing and critical refugee studies, and co-editor of the volume Exploring the Fantastic: Genre, Ideology, and Popular Culture (transcript, 2018). Her main areas of research and teaching are life writing and autofiction, border studies, and LatinX studies.


Nature Writing for the Anthropocene


My project Nature Writing for the Anthropocene questions the consequences of recent calls in the fields of posthumanism, material ecocriticism and life writing to decenter the human in contemporary discourse for the Anthropocene. Quite to the contrary, I query if in light of the threat that human behavior poses to all lives on earth in the Anthropocene, challenging human centrality in favor of more a relational understanding of all matter must not prevent foreclosing human accountability and responsibility. I eventually want to reposition nature writing as a genre that can potentially rethink responsibility and (human) agency because, through the inherent autobiographical focus on the human self, it always automatically negotiates responsibility, ethics, and morality.


English Literature, University of Glasgow


Eamonn Connor is a PhD candidate in the LKAS-funded project Ocean Liners: Cultures of Promotion at the University of Glasgow. His project examines forms of life-writing and self-presentation on board cruise ships from 1880-1960. He is interested in the cultural history of leisure and the capital-labour relations that marked the expansion of the British maritime empire.



Life Narratives of the ‘Golden Age’ Leisure Cruise, 1880-1960


This thesis explores forms of life writing and self-inscription relating to the experience of taking a leisure cruise during the interwar and post-war periods in Britain. Understanding the social and material processes that structured autobiographical practices like diary-keeping, amateur filmmaking, and letter writing illuminates the experiential realities of cruising during the “Golden Age” of ocean liners and allows us to consider how individuals and communities recognised themselves as participants and protagonists in British modernity. By reading the ocean liner as a spatial and social environment of modernity, this study situates the ‘cruise holiday’ within the broader cultural development of leisure within Britain from 1880-1960.


Comparative Literature, Utrecht University


Duygu Erbil is a PhD candidate in the Remembering Activism: The Cultural Memory of Protest in Europe project at Utrecht University. Her project explores the cultural afterlife of Deniz Gezmiş and how this Marxist-Leninist student leader and urban guerrilla has been remembered in Turkey since his execution in 1972. She is interested in the intersection of the cultural memory of activism, life writing and acts of witnessing within and beyond the legal domain.



Remembering Deniz Gezmiş

This project analyses the relationship between cultural memory and activism in Turkey by focusing on the storied life of Deniz Gezmiş, who was executed by the state in 1972, with his comrades Yusuf Aslan and Hüseyin İnan. It explores the material and discursive conditions for the cultural memorability of Deniz Gezmiş, to understand how state violence against revolutionaries is remembered, and how this remembrance plays into successive protests. It traces the ways in which Gezmiş’ life-story moved from the court of the Martial Law that sentenced him to death, to the “court of history”, thanks to counter-hegemonic cultural remembrance practices.


American Studies, University of Wuppertal


Lea Espinoza Garrido is a researcher and lecturer in American Literary and Cultural Studies at the University of Wuppertal and an associated member of the Graduate School “Practices of Literature” at the University of Münster. She has co-edited a collection on Life Writing in the Posthuman Anthropocene (forthcoming with Palgrave, “Palgrave Studies in Life Writing” series) and a special issue on Migrant States of Exception (forthcoming in Parallax). She has also published on gendered and racialized representations in contemporary American popular culture and is co-editor of the interphilological, peer-reviewed journal Textpraxis.


Disruptions of/in Queer Life Writing – Fragmentation, Materiality, and the Body in Laura Jane Grace’s Tranny

In this project, which I hope to turn into an article, I examine the interplay of text, image and paratext in Laura Jane Grace’s autobiography Tranny: Confessions of Punk Rock’s Most Infamous Anarchist (2016) to illustrate how it challenges the notion of a coherent self. Focusing on aesthetics in Grace’s work – particularly the role of materiality and the recurring images of bondage, breaking, and penetration – I argue that it installs fragmentation as its dominant narrative mode, and thus writes back to teleological coming-out narratives prevalent in much of queer life writing as well as to the cis male dominated genre of music autobiographies.


Literature, University of Chile


Bachelor in Humanities; Licenciada in History and Education. History and English Teacher. MA in Gender and Culture, Universidad de Chile. Ph.D. in Literature candidate (2018-2022), Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile.// Since 1997, I have worked on oral history projects related to generational and militant memory, cultural history, and political violence/human rights issues; afterward, Jewish memory and Holocaust testimonies/literature in Chile, with a gendered and transgenerational perspective. I belong to the Network of Oral History and Oral Archives in Chile and the Network of Feminist Historians.


Chilean-Jewish writings-of-the-self. Voices of contemporary Jewish-Chilean diasporic & traumatic memory

The research started with the recollection of more than a hundred works, mostly unknown to Academia. After producing an inventory of these works, I researched why literature-of-the-self was the primary literary form chosen by these Jewish authors. What topos were chosen, and which message do they try to convey? How are the effects of migration, Shoah, and family history focused? How do they dialogue with trauma and "other regional or local" traumatic memories (like Chilean Dictatorship…)? How do these memories and topos are handled within different Jewish clusters: German speakers, Jews (Jewish exile from Nazism mainly), Eastern Europeans (Holocaust survivors mainly), Sefaradim, and younger generations? What strategies do they use to develop their narration? Which is the relationship between the voice of the individuals and the voice of the collective? Which is the influence of gender on these voices? How is the Community and family archive affecting these narratives?


American Studies, University of Regensburg


Tamara Heger is a doctoral candidate and research associate in American Studies at Regensburg University, where she also completed her State Exam in English, History and Social Studies in 2018. She is Administrative Manager of the Regensburg European American Forum and Member of the Editorial Board of "Frictions", the Blogjournal of the Leibniz ScienceCampus "Europe and America in the Modern World." Her research interests include German-American and European-American relations as well as memory and life writing studies, public history and transnational American Studies.




The Flossenbuerg Concentration Camp Liberation in US-Soldiers’ Life Writings

My dissertation project analyzes the Liberation of the Flossenbürg Concentration Camp from US-Soldiers' perspectives, an angle hitherto neglected both in research about the concentration camp as well as the wider field of soldier’s memories. Seeing liberation as a liminal process rather than a breaking point, it draws on multiple genres of life narratives such as letters, interviews and autobiographical texts by authors present in Flossenbürg in spring and summer of 1945. Analyzing these texts as acts of social communication, I aim to find out how the soldiers construct their experiences and memories as meaningful narratives for themselves and their social surrounding.


American Studies, University of Passau


Bettina Huber finished her M.A. in American Studies at the University of Regensburg in 2017 and is currently teaching American Studies at the University of Passau. Her research focuses on the negotiations of identities and the challenges of perpetrator traumas in life narratives of U.S. soldiers. Her research interests include gender studies, trauma studies, life narrative studies, and the U.S. military. Her articles have been published, among others, in the Journal New Horizons in English Studies and in the COPAS Journal.


Remembering the War: Caught between Personal Trauma and Political Agenda

When analyzing life writings created by (former) military personnel, the self is often engaged in ethical discussions about personal responsibility, unjust policies, and violent aggressors. In these texts, memories, and especially traumatic memories, are presented as recurring and often repeated scenes. At the same time, engagement with social institutions, nation states, and global actions force the narrators to participate in the creation of histories. Therefore, war veterans have to participate in multiple, personal, political, and social, discourses and the accompanying struggles which are presented in the–sometimes fragmented–narratives that are the focus of my current research.


English and American Literature, University of Giessen


Isabel Kalous studied International Cultural and Business Studies at the University of Passau and the University of Córdoba, Spain. Before pursuing a PhD, she worked in further education management. Last year, she completed her dissertation in English and American Literature at the International Graduate Centre for the Study of Culture at the University of Giessen, where she worked as a research assistant and coordinator of the Graduate Career Services. Her research focuses on travel writing, African American literature, and cultural mobility studies. 



Contemporary Black Travel Narratives: Tracing Roots|Routes to Africa and Beyond

My dissertation titled “Contemporary Black Travel Narratives: Tracing Roots|Routes to Africa and Beyond” focuses on autobiographical travel narratives by African American and Black British Authors published between the 1990s and 2010s. It examines the literary representations of the writers’ journeys to Africa, the meanings attached to the continent, and the role of travel writing as a means of self-exploration. To provide a framework for the analyses of contemporary texts, the study outlines the emergence, development, and key characteristics of the multifaceted genre of Black travel writing. Authors discussed include, among others, Saidiya Hartman, Barack Obama, and Caryl Phillips.


American Studies, Ruhr-University Bochum


Hannes Koberg is a research assistant at the chair of American Studies, Ruhr-University Bochum, where he also teaches courses. He is currently working on a Ph.D. thesis tentatively titled “(Dis)embodying the Nation: The Body in Transnational Life Writing”. After obtaining an M.A. in English/American Studies from the Ruhr-University he worked as education manager for culture, photography and visual arts at an adult education center. In October 2019, he joined the RuhrCenter of American Studies as Ph.D. candidate. His research interests include: Contemporary U.S. Literature, Transnationalism, Life Writing Studies, Phenomenology, Body and Gender Studies.

(Dis)embodying the Nation: The Body in Transnational Life Writing

In my dissertation project, I examine transnational life narratives that contest national ideology and decenter the national and autobiographical subject by embodying it. In their attempts to dissolve boundaries between self–Other and mind–body, they evoke the performative temporality of the nation and thereby create a “third space” (Bhabha) of ontological ambivalence disrupting the nation’s purported wholeness. Here, writing a transnational self becomes possible. In order to explore the role of the body in these discursive contestations, I draw on a combination of poststructuralist and phenomenological approaches that help me to show how alterity and embodiment are closely interlinked in these narratives.


American Studies, University of Salzburg


Elisabeth is currently a PhD candidate and university assistant at the department of American Studies at the University of Salzburg. She has received her Bachelor’s degree in English and American Studies from the University of Graz and holds a Master’s degree in “English Studies and the Creative Industries” from the University of Salzburg. Her PhD project focuses on the transmedial representation of women’s autobiographical subjectivities in graphic narratives and their adaptations and an excerpt of her research is published in the e-journal CLOSURE. Elisabeth’s research interests include Comics and Autobiography Studies, Gender and Women’s Studies as well as Media and Adaptation Studies.



From Panel to Stage and Screen: Adapting Autographic Subjectivities


In my dissertation I trace the construction and adaptation of transgressive female autographic selves from page to stage and screen. Focusing on Alison Bechdel’s and Phoebe Gloeckner’s autobiographical practices in Fun Home and The Diary of a Teenage Girl I examine how comics’ multimodal, sequential, and fragmented form enables the representation of their performative queer and/or female identities. Building on these findings, my analysis focuses on the adaptation of these transgressive selves for the stage and screen to explore strategies for transforming the performative autographic self into theatrical and filmic performances and translating comics’ unique possibilities for transgressive queer/feminist representation across medial boundaries.


Modern Languages and Cultural Studies, University of Alberta


Megan Perram (she/her) is a PhD Candidate in the Department of Modern Languages and Cultural Studies at the University of Alberta. Her research centres the experiences of women and individuals with hyperandrogenism by exploring innovative digital tools for writing illness narratives. Megan is currently Editor-in-Chief of Connections: A Journal of Language, Media and Culture.


Click me: literary hypertext as illness narrative for womxn with hyperandrogenism

This project evaluates how womxn with hyperandrogenism can use literary hypertext to write illness narratives that construct positive relationships between their identities and the world. Literary hypertext is a form of digital story writing that calls on the reader to participate in the narrative’s unfolding by selecting hyperlinks which branch the narrative into nonlinear directions. Hyperandrogenism is a condition characterized by “excessive” levels of male hormones which, when identified in the female body, are associated with “masculinizing” symptoms. Through an online story-writing module and hypertext tutorial, 10 participants with hyperandrogenism have written their own stories based on their illness experience.


American Studies, Heinrich-Heine-University Düsseldorf


Jens Temmen is an Assistant professor (non tenure track) at the American Studies department at Heinrich-Heine-University Düsseldorf and a Fellow of the Young Academy of Sciences and Literature Mainz. His first monograph is titled The Territorialities of US Imperialism(s) (Winter, 2020). He is also co-editor of an anthology titled Across Currents: Connections between Atlantic and (Trans)Pacific Studies (Routledge, 2018) and of a Special Forum of the Journal for Transnational American Studies on “American Territorialities” (2020). His postdoctoral research project employs an ecocritical and posthuman studies lens to analyze representations of Mars colonization in contemporary U.S. literature and culture.



“My Battery is Low and It’s Getting Dark”: Posthuman Life Writing on Mars and the NASA Rover Missions

My contribution analyzes the NASA rover missions on Mars through a critical posthumanism studies lens. It sketches how the anthropomorphization of the rovers via different life writing practices and texts serves to illustrate the alleged queering of human life through technology in interplanetary contexts, thereby allegedly decentering of human experiences and destabilization traditional conceptions both of “life” and of “writing”. The ways in which these missions are circulated in current ecocritical debates, however, urges us to consider if and how posthuman life writing can move beyond the reproduction of human life and realities on other planets, to rather imagine transformative narratives that question our anthropocentric assumptions. 


English and American Studies, Masaryk University Brno


Karolína Zlámalová (she/her) is enrolled in the PhD program Literatures in English in the Department of English and American Studies at Masaryk University in Brno, Czech Republic. She has a Master’s degree in English Language and Literature from the same university. In her PhD research, she concentrates on queer, gender, and femme aspects in contemporary American immigrant life writing. Her current research interests include the role of language in the identity narratives of queer immigrant autobiographical subjects.


Masculinities, Femininities, and Queerness in Contemporary North American Immigrant Queer Life Writing


My PhD dissertation titled Masculinities, Femininities, and Queerness in Contemporary North American Immigrant Queer Life Writing examines the ways in which masculinities, femininities, and queerness, as elements of narrative identities, are textually constructed, represented, and addressed in the contemporary North American life writing narratives by immigrant, queer, nonbinary and feminine-of-the-center authors. My research employs an intersectional approach of combining feminist, femme, queer, and postcolonial theories of life writing, arguing that the narratives by queer authors who are influenced both by their cultures of origin and the Western culture, and who must navigate different layers of marginalization and disempowerment, present a unique perspective on masculinities and femininities.

Baier, Verena
Batzke, Ina
Connor, Eamonn
Erbil, Duygu
Espinoza Garrido, Lea
Goecke, Ximena
Heger, Tamara
Huber, Bettina
Kalous, Isabel
Koberg, Hannes
Krieber, Elisabeth
Perram, Megan
Temmen, Jens
Zlámalová, Karolína
Tropical Shapes

© Verena Baier

Verena Baier and Tamara Heger

American Studies

University of Regensburg

93040 Regensburg


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