Get to Know Our Fellows: Four Questions with Deirdre Bair

Deirdre Bair

-What is your academic background and what is your current position at UConn?

MA and PhD from Columbia University, comparative literature major.  Tenured professor at U. of Pennsylvania.  Visiting professor, writer in residence, or distinguished scholar at (among other titles) Ohio State University; Bennington College; Macquarie and Griffith Universities. Humanities Institute at Australian National University, Canberra, (all Australia),  Visiting lecturer at Paris VII, Kassel U. (Germany), Upsala U. (Sweden), James Joyce Summer School ( University College, Dublin).  These are selected.  Currently independent scholar and writer.

-What is the project you’re currently working on?

Bio/Memoir: the Accidental Biographer (working title, subject to change).  It is the history of the seven years for each biography I wrote, of Samuel Beckett and Simone de Beauvoir. During those years I knew and worked with each subject on the research and writing.  It will include new information that was not appropriate to publish during their lifetimes, and it will also detail my coming of age as a writer and feminist.  It will be both a history of my personal evolution throughout this historical moment and will also address the many professional decisions I made as I created a new form of contemporary biography. It will also elaborate on how the genre evolved over the last several decades.

-How did you arrive at this topic?

I decided to write this book because so many individuals and organizations have asked me about my experiences. Other biographers, historians, psychologists, and art historians want my testimony for their books and because they sometimes change what I tell them to fit it into their particular theories or world views, I’ve decided to write my own account first so that my version of “the truth” (in all the post-modern ramifications of that term) will be on the record. After that, they are free to interpret it as they wish.

-What impact might your work have on a larger public understanding of your topic?

I hesitate to make assumptions about the impact my work will have.  I simply offer it as part of a historical record so that future scholars and writers may use it as they will.  I think of Margaret Atwood here, who said how can we think we are providing permanent answers now when we don’t even know what questions future generations will be asking.