Authoring a Life

A Woman's Survival In and Through Literary Studies

By Brenda Daly

Subjects: Autobiography, Biography And Memoir
Paperback : 9780791436806, 267 pages, March 1998
Hardcover : 9780791436790, 267 pages, March 1998

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Table of contents



1. Death of the Author, Birth of an Author

2. Pretending Not to Know, While Reading in the Dark

3. A Mother-Daughter Story

4. Sisterhood is Powerful

5. Politics and Pedagogy: Incest Narrative in a Middle School Classroom

6. My Father/My Censor: English Education, Politics, and Status

7. The Scarlet Letter I: Incest Narrative in the College Literature Classroom

8. What Do Survivors Need? To Make Ourselves Visible, To Make Ourselves Heard



Works Cited


This book begins as an autobiography, the story of an incest survivor who became an English professor, but it ends with an argument: that we must reconceptualize the language arts curriculum, from grade school through graduate school, if we are to meet the needs of our students, an alarming number of whom are survivors of childhood sexual abuse.


Authoring a Life illustrates how language often plays an important part in many a victim's struggle to survive the debilitating effects of father-daughter incest. For example, reading may serve as therapy, enabling a survivor to confront rather than repress painful memories, and writing may help a survivor to recover a sense of authoring both her texts and her life. The book argues that, despite the current backlash against survivor stories, language arts teachers must develop effective pedagogies for teaching father-daughter incest narratives.

Brenda Daly, Associate Professor of English, Iowa State University, is the author of two books: Lavish Self-Divisions: The Novels of Joyce Carol Oates and Narrating Mothers: Theorizing Maternal Subjectives, with Maureen T. Reddy.


"This book is brave, beautiful, and practical and offers readers suggestions as well as cautionary tales for personal, pedagogical, readerly, and scholarly action. " — Diane P. Freedman, University of New Hampshire, Durham

"The author's skill in integrating theory, scholarship, and personal experience is superb. Her understanding of psychoanalytic theory is so complete that she is able to address audiences not so well versed in theory as well as those who share her own familiarity. Her knowledge of the literature of father-daughter incest is encyclopedic and her presentation of that literature a valuable resource for any reader wishing to pursue this topic. " — Jo Anne Pagano, author of Exiles and Communities: Teaching in the Patriarchal Wilderness

"Daly is thoroughly conversant with the relevant sources—psychoanalytic, rhetorical, critical, autobiographical. She writes with clarity, power, and authoritative conviction. Her strong clear voice, in fact, is the most powerful and resonant feature of this book—thereby demonstrating the truth of her thesis, that writing about trauma is a way of understanding it, overcoming it, and integrating it into one's life story. " — Lynn Z. Bloom, University of Connecticut, Storrs