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One Hundred Autobiographies at MLA

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In anticipation of the Modern Language Association Annual Convention this January 9-12 2020 in Seattle, we asked David Lehman, author of One Hundred Autobiographies: A Memoir, three questions about his research.

1. What’s your favorite anecdote from your research for this book? 

Writing this book helped save my life. I wrote every day I could during the more than three years of my battle with bladder cancer. Writing, the imagination, is a lifesaver—a way to affirm your existence and to escape from pain.

2. What do you wish you had known when you started writing your book, that you know now? 

When I started writing my book, One Hundred Autobiographies: A Memoir, I didn’t know for sure that I’d win the battle with cancer and be alive to complete the book and see it published. It was a nice surprise. Everything that happened to me—the hell of chemotherapy, the procedures, the complications—was unexpected. 

3. How do you wish you could change the field of literary studies?

If I could change the field of literary studies, I’d bring back required courses and make sure the undergraduate curriculum included the study of great books of literature and philosophy from Homer and Plato to Dostoyevski and Nietzsche.


David Lehman is a well-known poet, writer, editor, and teacher. His books of poetry include “Playlist” (2019), “Poems in the Manner Of” (2017), and “New and Selected Poems” (2013). He launched “The Best American Poetry” in 1988 and continues as the anthology series’ general editor. He defeated bladder cancer, the variety that killed Frank Sinatra, and lived to tell the tale — with a retrospective look at his many lives.


Access the full 2020 Modern Language Association Annual Convention program, or follow the meeting on social with hashtag #MLA20 and @MLAnews 

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