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Writing Queer Biography

Wednesday 10 February 2021, 4.30PM

Chair: Dr Alexandra Kingston-Reese (University of York)

Join us to discuss writing queer biography, with Dr Diarmuid Hester (University of Cambridge).

For Wendy Moffat, ‘life writing is the key to queer futures.’ Unearthing the often suppressed details of queer people’s lived experience in the past is the basis for any queer studies to come. Her book, A Great Unrecorded History: A New Life of E.M. Forster (2010), exemplifies this approach, attending more closely than any previous biography to Forster’s homosexuality and the locked diary where the novelist noted his sexual exploits. 

The locked diary clarifies a queer history; but the form of literary biography can obscure it. Focused more on the life of a remarkable individual than a community or a collective experience, it runs the risk of distorting our perception of queer life then—and now. In The Wilde Century (1994), Alan Sinfield wrote: ‘the task [of queer history] is not the discovery of an ineluctable selfhood, but determined political allegiance.’ Is the veneration of the self that constitutes literary biography at odds with a radical queer history? Are there ways to do biography differently? In this workshop, we will consider these and other questions in relation to the biographies of three queer writers: Forster, Carson McCullers, and Dennis Cooper. The session will be led by Dr Diarmuid Hester, whose biography of Cooper, WRONG, was published in 2020. Advance readings can be found here.

Dr Diarmuid Hester is a writer and academic. His work has appeared in American Literature, GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies, the Irish Times, the Guardian, and other venues. His spoken word pieces have been broadcast on BBC Radio 3 and Ireland’s RTÉ Radio 1, and in 2020 he was named a BBC New Generation Thinker. His new book, Nothing Ever Just Disappears: A New History of Queer Culture Through its Spaces will be published by Allen Lane/Penguin in 2023. Diarmuid teaches at the Faculty of English, University of Cambridge.

Online via zoom: Register in advance for this meeting by clicking here. After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting.




Location: Online via Zoom