Traces, an introduction by Lyn Thomas

In this new section we gather together life writing projects that are concerned with collecting, conserving and transforming traces of lives, our own, those of our parents, and others. For Annie Ernaux, whose work is a foundational inspiration for Life Writing Projects, material and memory traces of lives are the raw material she writes with and from, thus simultaneously saving them, and highlighting their ephemerality. In The Uses of Photography we see her fascination with the traces left by the lovers’ bodies, their preservation in photography and text representing something of life in the shadow of death.

Here a similar impulse is at work ; traces of the past such as photographs, letters and lists are the spingboard for these pieces. Ruth Rosengarten writes scenes from her life through two precious preserved objects : her own hair, cut when she was thirteen, and her parents’ extraordinary table lighter, a strange marine nature morte in a glass. She wonders whether writing about the objects will enable her, eventually, to discard them, but the table lighter, particularly, continues to exert its uncanny hold over her. Miranda Waugh is also grappling with her belongings, packing and unpacking them, and it is the discovery of old photographs that inspires her attempt to preserve the traces of her life through writing. In ‘The Citadel’ the account of the hard physical labour of building a log pile is accompanied by a delicate tracing of family dynamics. Shelagh Doonan’s three poems work with traces of her relatives’ lives : the lists her mother made, her own memories of her outings with her father on a turquoise Vespa, the potatoes her grandfather grew, and the Guinness bottles he buried. In a piece taken from an epistolary memoir she is currently writing, Mikey Cuddihy uses a material and a memory trace – a letter from her sister and the memory of a telephone call with her – to retrieve the intimacy they have shared.

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